Is Partners HealthCare charting a new course? I’m quoted

I’m quoted in today’s front page Boston Globe article (Partners HealthCare chief met a trail of resistance), which dissects the tenure of outgoing Partners CEO, Gary Gottlieb. It should be no surprise that the continued expansion of the biggest and strongest healthcare system in Massachusetts under Gottlieb has led to friction and controversy.

The reporter asked me about whether a new CEO would change the company’s strategy. Here’s what I said:

Partners executives have said bolstering their network of hospitals is critical to coordinating patient care and keeping costs in check through more efficient care. Gottlieb’s successor and Partners’ board will have to decide whether to stick with that approach.

“The broad expansion, it’s not obvious that they need to do that,” said David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group, a Boston consulting firm. “Partners doesn’t need to expand at all and it would still be the biggest and strongest in the state.”

I suggested that Partners could decide to go back to its roots as a world-renowned academic medical center with its Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There are other ways to coordinate care and control costs besides owning community hospitals and physician practices.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group

Telehealth at Mercy Health: Podcast interview with CFO/EVP Strategy Shannon Sock

Shannon Sock, Mercy Health CFO & EVP of Strategy

Shannon Sock, Mercy Health CFO & EVP of Strategy

Today’s Center for Connected Health Symposium #cHealth14 featured a high-powered panel discussion with top executives from Wellpoint, American Well, and the VA along with Shannon Sock, CFO and EVP of Strategy at Mercy Health. The topic: Large Scale Connected Health Interventions –Lessons Learned.

After the panel, I sat down with Shannon to talk about Mercy’s 10-year journey in telehealth. The big, midwestern integrated delivery system has made telehealth a strategic priority since at least 2006. That commitment is ramping up further with the construction of a 120,000 square foot, $50 million virtual telehealth center, slated to open next year.

In this podcast interview Sock described Mercy’s telehealth approach and accomplishments as a first mover. He also touched on the challenges of getting his colleagues to approach telehealth as a strategic asset, the opportunity to diversify Mercy’s revenues by providing services to other systems, direct contracting with employers, and the exciting new possibilities of patient engagement arriving with Apple’s HealthKit and similar initiatives.

Sock also highlighted the competitive jockeying that’s taking place between health plans and large health systems. The plans are starting to insert themselves into primary care delivery (e.g., Wellpoint with American Well) while big systems are building the infrastructure that they hope will let employers bypass health plans entirely.

I would love to be the moderator for round 2 of this panel so we could dig into these competitive issues more directly.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group

 

Innovation at Aetna: Podcast interview with Michael Palmer, Chief Innovation & Digital Officer

Michael Palmer, Aetna's Chief Innovation & Digital Officer

Michael Palmer, Aetna’s Chief Innovation & Digital Officer

Michael Palmer, Chief Innovation & Digital Officer at Aetna, will deliver a keynote address (Leading Innovation in a Connected World) tomorrow at the Partners Connected Health Symposium in Boston.

I caught up with him today to get his perspectives on the following topics:

  • What innovation means for Aetna and how that differs from what it means for small companies or other industries
  • The extent to which Aetna’s customers are seeking innovation vs. more prosaic factors such as reliability, consistency
  • How Aetna is partnering on innovative approaches in genomics, cancer care and other areas
  • What Aetna thinks it can bring to the consumer market to beat innovators such as Humana and Oscar Health

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group

 

Minimally invasive surgery: Discussion with Covidien’s Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Mike Tarnoff, Covidien's Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Mike Tarnoff, Covidien’s Chief Medical Officer

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) has been broadly available for well over a decade, yet penetration is widely variable. Open surgical approaches are still common for many surgeries including hysterectomy and colorectal.

In this podcast interview, I asked Covidien’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mike Tarnoff to explain what’s going on with MIS adoption in the US and around the world, and what role doctors, patients, and industry should be playing.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group

 

Trashing Charlie Baker on outsourcing –uncalled for

Charlie Baker (R), candidate for Governor of Massachusetts

Charlie Baker (R), candidate for Governor of Massachusetts

The mud-slinging continues in the campaign for Governor of Massachusetts. This time Democrat Martha Coakley is attacking Republican Charlie Baker for outsourcing jobs when he was CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care back in 1999. This is on top of the previous accusations of “raising premiums, cutting coverage for seniors, and tripling his own salary to $1.7 million.”

It’s an unfair attack. Baker should be praised instead.

Harvard Pilgrim’s IT systems were a mess in the 90s. They couldn’t pay claims in an accurate or timely manner, and as a result the company couldn’t figure out if it was making or losing money. As it turned out they were losing, and on their way to bankruptcy. Baker stepped in and righted the ship.

Outsourcing to Perot was a good move. Perot hired the existing Harvard Pilgrim IT staff in Massachusetts. In 2006, Perot hired about 200 employees in India to serve the account. Apparently this is the basis for the Coakley attack, but it’s a pretty weak one.

It’s not Harvard Pilgrim’s job to boost employment in Massachusetts. Instead the primary goal should be to deliver excellent service and value to customers. They seem to have done a good job, since they consistently rate at or near the top of the best health plans in the US.

I assume the Coakley campaign knows that the allegations about raising premiums are not to be taken seriously. Health plans have been raising prices forever –there’s no reason to single Baker out for that. And Coakley would like us to believe that Baker cut benefits for the elderly, making him sound like Paul Ryan taking a knife to Medicare. The reality is much less exciting and newsworthy. And sure Baker got a big salary boost, which is a pretty modest reward for rescuing a major company. If it had been a for-profit company you can bet the rewards would have been a heck of a lot bigger.

Baker isn’t perfect. But attacks on his competence and wisdom as a healthcare leader deserve to backfire.

To read or listen to my interviews with all the candidates for Governor of Massachusetts, check out my coverage from earlier this year.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams of the Health Business Group