By Larry McClain
Although the annual Health:Further conference is best known for bringing innovative start-ups and investors together, the event also attracts healthcare and business organizations that have massive scale. For example, Monday’s keynote sessions kicked off with a dialogue between Health:Further CEO Marcus Whitney and R. Milton Johnson, chairman and CEO of HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital system.
Johnson helped set the tone for the entire event by highlighting HCA’s ambitious program for early detection of sepsis. By speeding communication directly to the bedside, HCA anticipates that it will save more than 1,000 lives this year throughout its gigantic hospital network.
Here are some highlights of other Monday keynote speeches and interviews:
Wellville Restores The Social Fabric
Esther Dyson, executive founder of Wellville, discussed her organization’s efforts to improve community health in five U.S. locations that each have a population under 100,000 people: Muskegon County, Mich.; Clatsop County, Ore.; Lake County, Calif.; North Hartford, Conn., and Spartanburg, S.C.
“When a community makes healthcare a central part of the social fabric, taxes can actually go down and politicians can get enthusiastically re-elected,” said Dyson. Wellville aids in that effort by providing resources like wellness coaching and helping communities find funding sources.
Dyson noted that each small action has a cumulative effect. “A community can do things like provide affordable childcare, not child storage,” she said. “Or perhaps they can find a licensed nurse to improve the quality of a church-based wellness program. The most important thing is to keep a long-term focus. For instance, are the kids in the community getting healthier from 4th grade to 8th grade?”
Walmart Is Revolutionizing Healthcare Access
Most people don’t associate “healthcare innovation” with Walmart, yet the retailing giant is doing many extraordinary things – both for its customers and employees.
This session was a lively Marcus-on-Marcus discussion, as Marcus Whitney spoke with Marcus Osborne, Walmart’s vice president of health and wellness transformation. “Walmart has an amazing number of healthcare touchpoints with its customers,” said Osborne. “About 50 percent of the U.S. population physically walks into a Walmart store every week, and that number is about 70 percent if you add online customers. One-fifth of all food consumed in the U.S. annually is sold at Walmart, so we have tremendous insights into what foods people are eating and how we can improve their eating habits. And on the wellness front, half of the bikes sold in the U.S. each year are bought at Walmart.”
In addition, Walmart operates America’s largest self-insured health plan for its employees, with an annual budget of $4.5 billion.
Osborne observed that the U.S. healthcare industry is essentially a “balanced interest” system, where providers, patients, payers, pharma and vendors all try to carefully balance their interests. “We at Walmart feel that it would be better to go to a purely consumer-centered design where the only people who matter are the consumers of healthcare products and services,” he said.
“The thing that causes people the most angst in America today is not terrorism or immigration – it’s healthcare prices and access,” said Osborne. “That’s why we’re bringing primary care into the retail setting, alongside vision and hearing services. Plus our recent move into in-store dentistry is the biggest healthcare launch in our history. It’s been incredibly successful right out of the gate.”
Osborne also tackled a touchy subject: why are some doctors so much better than others? “We’re really putting pressure on providers to up their game,” he said. “Some providers do an amazing job of providing appropriate level of care and high quality at a reasonable cost. Other providers fall far short. We estimate that if we can drive our employees to high-performing providers, we could potentially shave $1 billion off our $4.5 billion annual healthcare costs.”
Leadership Starts With Defined Goals
Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO emeritus of Gundersen Health System in Wisconsin, explored what it means to be a leader in today’s fast-changing healthcare industry.
“Do healthcare leaders enter the field because they want to improve margins by 1 percent?,” he asked. “No, they want to improve the health of people in their communities. But America doesn’t have clearly stated national healthcare goals. Finland has them, and so does Costa Rica. How come the U.S. doesn’t have any?”
Thompson emphasized that true leadership requires taking responsibility for doing what’s right. “We didn’t worry about the bottom line impact of reducing Gundersen’s greenhouse gas emissions – we just did it because we knew it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We’ve lowered those emissions by 95 percent. Gundersen has also taken the lead in advanced care planning. Some hospital systems have padded their bottom line by providing unneeded and unwanted care to seniors. Our hospital system won’t do that because it simply isn’t right.”