Long-term thinking for short-term problems

Long-term thinking for short-term problems

Those within and outside of the health sector have heard plenty about how ageing populations, chronic disease and insatiable public expectations are placing impossible demands on limited budgets. What they have heard less about is a concrete plan for addressing these huge challenges.

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Businessman in a discussion

Andrew Jacobs, MD – Medical Director, Virginia Mason Medical Center, US

People with only a passing interest in healthcare are aware that current care models are unsustainable. Those within and outside of the health sector have heard plenty about how ageing populations, chronic disease and insatiable public expectations are placing impossible demands on limited budgets. What they have heard less about is a concrete plan for addressing these huge challenges.

Those within healthcare are also less likely to acknowledge the case for change on their own doorstep. Recent KPMG crowdsourcing research of healthcare leaders around the world reveals that 73 percent believe fundamental change is required in their country’s healthcare system. Yet, only 35 percent feel that such change is needed within their own organization.1

While governments, academics, health administrators and practitioners have been busy talking about change, other industries have been equally busy delivering it. Media and communications companies, for example, are continually tearing up their old business models and introducing innovative new products and services that embrace the digital age. At the same time, retailers are widening the choice and quality of products, thanks to enhanced supply chain management that makes use of global sourcing.

In the search for a future vision of healthcare, it is all too easy to park the immediate problems of financial constraints and unsatisfied patients. However, a failure to address today’s pressing needs could threaten the very survival of many institutions. Organizations such as the Virginia Mason Medical Center in the US have come a considerable distance down the road of transformation by recognizing that short-term difficulties are largely caused by inappropriate business models.

Case study - A consistent vision: Virginia Mason (US)

Virginia Mason Medical Center is recognized as a story of what is possible when organizations focus on transformative solutions to seemingly transactional problems. The hospital and medical center in Seattle, WA, US, has succeeded where many others have failed in evolving a completely new model of care thanks to their consistency of purpose over the last 15 years.

The picture was very different back in 2000, when the challenge appeared to be less about long-term strategy and more about survival: there were critical challenges to the organization's financial viability, quality and ability to retain the best talent. Unlike most of its peers, Virginia Mason chose not to go for the quick fix, but set out on a journey that, a decade and a half later, sees it lauded worldwide for its ability to raise clinical standards and improve outcomes, while reducing costs.

The cornerstones of this achievement are:

  • a shared vision
  • visible and committed leadership
  • aligned expectations
  • transparency
  • a constant sense of urgency
  • continuous improvement.

Over time, this approach has had a dramatic effect on both quality and cost.

Source: Blackmore Mecklenberg and Kaplan in Health Affairs 2011 pp 1680 and 1687 At Virginia Mason Collaboration among providers employers and health plans to transform care cuts costs and improved quality

Footnotes

1KPMG’s global healthcare crowdsourcing research project was conducted from March to May, 2014 involving 555 members representing more than 50 countries.

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