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C-suite execs share innovation investment strategies amid political uncertainty in DC

Top leaders of Northwell, Providence St. Joseph and Henry Ford simply refuse to be prisoners of ever-changing federal government rules.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Left to right: Michael Dowling, Robin Damschroder, Steven MohrLeft to right: Michael Dowling, Robin Damschroder, Steven Mohr

The turmoil in the regulatory space for healthcare is no secret. The attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act may have thus far stalled overall, but continued efforts to deconstruct the ACA through particular rollbacks like the undoing of the individual mandate have stirred a cloud of uncertainty over the nation's capital that is looming.

What's more, it threatens to hamper the large investments hospital are facing to modernize and optimize their IT infrastructure and digital health tools for the era of value-based care.

But healthcare CFOs we interviewed said while regulations come and go, innovation is all about keeping your eye on the prize and strategizing for the future you want, for your organization and for healthcare as a whole.

Refusing to be a prisoner of regulations

Steven Mohr, Los Angeles Region CFO for Providence St. Joseph Health said that instead of trying to weather the individual storms of healthcare change, look at where things are going and ask "how can we be at the forefront?"

Innovation is more important to healthcare systems than ever before and for Providence its sites are set on figuring out ways to better reach its community through digital access, express care services, small in-store sites and additional urgent care availability.

"Organizationally if we are moving toward that 'true north' of creating access, innovation around how we connect with patients, that really will weather regulatory changes and changes in the way healthcare is being perceived in our country," Mohr said.

Henry Ford Health System CFO Robin Damschroder and Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling agreed that innovation success hinges on making it a priority. Damschroder said there is a lot of weight when you talk about value-based reimbursement looking at what CMS and external payers are expecting around quality and safety and consumer experience and how its driving investment.

"Organizationally if we are moving toward that 'true north' of creating access, innovation around how we connect with patients, that really will weather regulatory changes and changes in the way healthcare is being perceived in our country,"

Steven Mohr, Los Angeles Region CFO

"You have to make investments in those things that are important to consumers and payers," Damschroder said.

For Dowling, innovation equals forward motion. A lack of innovation means you're simply managing what is.

"I try not to let that happen so I don't spend my time worrying about what the new regs are or what Washington or Albany are doing everyday. I worry about what I want to do," Dowling said. "And if and when I come up against a regulation that makes it impossible to do, then I find a way around it or over it because if you're not challenging regulation you are not moving forward."

You can only make things better if you continue to transform and innovate.

The future is digital, genomics, wellness

Digital platform is really the panacea of how to connect with patients in a convenient way. Driving toward a singular platform is a focus for Providence, according to Mohr, since patients looking to access care now don't have a seamless method to go online and find it. Providence is trying to solve that in such a way that ensures a patient is dealt with almost on a concierge basis with a one-stop-shop where they can access everything they need "instead of calling a number or looking at this website or talking to this person for referral."

Concerns about cost and coverage are at least one of the drivers behind the system's rollout of express care services, small in-store sites and additional urgent care availability.

"These are ways that can reduce costs, create great connectivity with the community and move toward the idea of whatever trend is coming ahead of us," Mohr said. "The few things we do know are around cost and consumers seeking more convenient ways to access care."

"If and when I come up against a regulation that makes it impossible to do, then I find a way around it or over it because if you're not challenging regulation you are not moving forward."

Northwell Health CFO Michael Dowling

Providence St. Joseph's Institute for Systems Biology is a not-for-profit biomedical research organization using genomics to help cure disease and also has an overall wellness focus. The institute's efforts include research in the areas of breast cancer survivorship, Alzheimer's, Glioblastoma and markers to help identify and reverse disease at the earliest possible stages.

"We are really looking at how can we change healthcare and strive for innovation methodologies that should change hcare in a way that is long-lasting and sustainable," Mohr added.

Henry Ford Health System has touted an innovation center for over a decade that endeavors to commercialize technologies and tools built in-house and, as such, has its own operating budget.

More recently, many healthcare systems are investing in funds of a strategic nature, looking at companies that are bringing things to market that would help solve problems within healthcare orgs.

Damschroder said Henry Ford is evaluating a project within their cancer center that is similar to the Disney bracelets guests receive to interact with and guide them along in their Disney experience. Henry Ford is looking at capabilities like that too as well as investments around care coordination, including case managers, apps and tools that assist patients in managing their care.

As Henry Ford designs new ambulatory sites with the integration of the virtual and digital with physical world in mind such as check in process like those used by airlines where you can check in in advance.

Overall, the drive now is to garner adoption that, in turn, will drive scale to enable physicians to extend themselves and allow patients to get greater access and improved experience

"We are starting to make those things we experience in other industries available in healthcare," Damschroder said.

Want innovation? Foster curiosity

Dowling said innovation success can only happen with the right staff driving it, so you have to focus a lot on the people you hire, the type of management you bring on board and where you station the leadership within the company.

"You have to foster curiosity and be in an overall state of relative unhappiness with everything you do," Dowling added. "You want people around you that are always looking to say 'we do a good job but not good enough."

Allowing your employees to come up with innovative suggestions on how to do things differently and new business ideas is crucial to sustained innovation.

"We are starting to make those things we experience in other industries available in healthcare."

Henry Ford Health System CFO Robin Damschroder

Dowling said Northwell runs its own Shark Tank competition every year. Leaders put out requests to employees to come up with new innovative ideas that could potentially become a business. They narrow the scores of proposals down and have an outside independent group make final selections.

Like the hit TV show, Northwell employees must come in, present and defend their ideas and take questions. If the idea wins, Dowling invests money, up to $500K in each, to get the employee to develop it into a potential business.

The system also gives innovation awards and holds "innovation day" events, all in the name of galvanizing creativity among Northwell's ranks.

"The mistake that people make is thinking that innovation comes from the top of the organization,"  Dowling said. "My view is that the biggest innovations can come from the bottom if you allow people the opportunities to express them."

Focus on Innovation

In September, we take a deep dive into security strategy and pressing threats.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

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