“I think the traditional definition of an integrated delivery network is going to change.”
Those were the words spoken by Sara Vaezy, Providence’s chief strategy and digital officer, during a Reuters Events panel on building effective integrated care systems. The panel took place last year, but its recording was recently released to offer health systems guidance as they continue to struggle with staff burnout and inefficient workflows.
Providence is a large, vertically integrated healthcare delivery network with more than 50 hospitals, a health plan, post-acute care centers and ambulatory care centers. But Vaezy said she isn’t so sure “it’s a foregone conclusion that the model that we have today is the model that we will continue to have going forward.”
She acknowledged that large integrated health systems have their benefits, such as cost savings, efficiency and continuity of care.
“All of those things are important, but accomplishing that does not necessarily mean that you need a single legal entity under which all of this historical, legacy brick-and-mortar-type thinking rolls up under that,” Vaezy declared.
In her view, health systems will be more successful if they let go of the notion that they can do it all.
Vaezy pointed out that there is a “tremendous amount of innovation” coming from digital health companies, and this innovation is often focused on improving hospitals’ operational efficiency and patient engagement. Instead of taking time to build all of this technology in-house, health systems must partner with these companies, she argued.
“It’s not that we shouldn’t try to do certain things, but we shouldn’t try to do at all,” Vaezy said. “As health systems, especially as larger health systems that are integrated vertically and horizontally, we’ve tried. This creates a lot of what you see today, which is that we’re not particularly well-suited to the needs of our consumers and our markets.”
Another panelist — Jason Szczuka, Bon Secours Mercy Health’s chief digital officer — agreed with Vaezy.
When it comes to developing innovative technology, he said health systems are usually unable to compete with digital health companies’ speed and sometimes unable to compete with their talent.
“Integrated does not mean exclusive, because there’s innovation happening everywhere. It’s not that a system like Bon Secours can’t do it ourselves internally, but there’s a singular focus that others have when they’re set out to innovate on a specific use case,” Szczuka said. “We have to be open to [partnerships]. Otherwise, we’re just going to continue to shrink in some ways.”
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