Does Clinical Integration Call For New Leaders?

For quite some time now, U.S. healthcare reforms have been built around the idea that we need to achieve clinical integration between key care partners. Under these emerging models of integration, it isn’t good enough for physicians and hospitals to have a general sense of what care the other is delivering. Instead, the idea is for independent entities to function as much as possible as though they were part of the same organization.

Of course, for these partners in an integrated system to work together, they have to share a great deal of data on a patient, if not necessarily every scrap of their lifetime medical record. In other words, some degree of data integration isn’t “nice to have,” it’s a “must have.”  In fact, I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that without data integration, effective clinical integration is basically impossible.

However, while readers of this publication aren’t ignorant of this fact, my sense is that some participants in such schemes are hoping to jump in with both feet first, and figure out data sharing models later. This is mostly a hunch, but I’m pretty sure it’s happening, and moreover, I’m convinced that the mediocre performance of most ACOs is due to a leap-before-you-look approach to data sharing.

I don’t know if any models exist that emerging integrated clinical entities can use to lay out data pathways before they’re under the gun. But my sense is that we spend too little time figuring this out in advance.

Generally speaking, my guess is that these ACO partnerships and other integrated care projects are being driven by old-school healthcare execs. By this I mean folks who understand very well how to build for cross referrals between entities, forge partnerships that help all hospitals and doctors involved do better in insurance negotiations, know how to negotiate with health purchases such as large employers and the like.

Having followed such folks for some 25 years, I have nothing but respect for their strategic skills. However, I sort of doubt that they are the right people to guide larger healthcare organizations into the age of clinical and technical integration. While they might be very smart, their intuition tells them to hold back data as a proprietary asset, not share it with partners who might be competitors again in the future. And while it’s understandable why they think this way, it’s not constructive today.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that CXOs with decades of experience have suddenly become dinosaurs. There’s still plenty of work for them to do, and most of it is vitally important to the future of the health system. But if they want to be successful, they’ll have to turn their thinking around regarding data integration with partners. And if they can’t do that, it very well be time to bring in some fresh blood.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.