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Improving patients' access to care tops evolving list of C-suite concerns, Advisory Board survey shows

The topic ranked sixth a year ago; it is one of three new issues that have breached the top five.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The top concerns for C-Suite hospital and health system executives have undergone a significant disruption over the past year, with improving patients' access to care in ambulatory or outpatient settings now ranking as the top concern, according to the Advisory Boards' Annual Health Care CEO Survey.

The finding was revealed in a nationwide survey of 183 C-suite executives conducted in December 2016 and January 2017. The topic ranked sixth a year ago; it is one of three new issues that have breached the top five.

The survey asked executives about their level of concern for 26 topics, ranging from preparing for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act to non-merger partnership and affiliation models.

[Also: Consumerism, patient engagement top of mind for health system CEOs, Advisory Board says]

A new topic for this year's survey, finding innovative ways to reduce expenses, entered the ranks in second place. Just behind was boosting market share for outpatient surgical procedures, up from 10th a year ago.

Minimizing unwarranted clinical variation placed fourth, while controlling avoidable utilization rounded out the top five.

"This shift in topic rankings reflects a change in hospital and health system priorities in part driven by current discussions on health care policy reform," said Chas Roades, chief research officer at Advisory Board, in a statement. "Improving cost-effective access for consumers, who are likely to bear more direct financial responsibility for the cost of care, will be a growing concern for healthcare providers in the coming decade."

The top four concerns each drew a higher percentage of "extremely interested" C-level executives than last year's number one topic. A year ago, minimizing unwanted variation in care cost and quality topped the field at 53 percent. This year's top four concerns netted 57, 57, 55 and 54 percent, respectively.

[Also: Wait times for Medicaid patients creep up slightly, timely appointments still generally accessible, JAMA study says]

Overall, the changes in interest point to hospitals and health systems increasingly seeing their relationships with physicians as potential points of differentiation from other providers in their communities. 

"The uncertainty on timing and specifics of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as MACRA, are creating more momentum from physicians to seek support and alignment with health systems," said Lisa Bielamowicz, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president of research at Advisory Board.  "While demand for physician employment is at a near-record high, hospitals should use this moment to refocus their physician strategies on building a network centered on delivering accessible, lower cost and reliable healthcare."

Survey questions are based on Advisory Board's more than 10,000 annual research interviews with healthcare executives.

Twitter: @JELagasse