Sheil: A cottage industry no more

Healthcare has been an industry in which every hospital stands alone, but now each must find the right partners to meet strategic goals to position them for future growth, writes Cleveland Clinic's Eileen Sheil.

Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic
Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic

When it comes to healthcare, 2015 will be a year in which systems across the US continue to drive change to effectively implement the Affordable Care Act and deal with other forces increasing the cost of medical care. To do this, hospitals are working to become more efficient, reduce duplication of services, make healthcare more affordable, and drive quality and access to all. Communications must keep pace every step of the way to ensure that employees, the public, and – most importantly – patients know what is coming and how it will affect them.

Hospitals are well on their way, moving toward value-based care with a focus on quality and cost, while trying to preserve margins in the midst of declining reimbursement. Healthcare has been a cottage industry in which every hospital stands alone, but now each must find the right partners to meet strategic goals to position them for future growth.

Innovative health systems are working together to determine how best to drive economies of scale and share back-office operations – such as supply chain, HR, laundry services, and more – so not every hospital bears those costs alone. Millions of dollars can be saved in attempts to reduce a system’s expenses and determine how to bring downs costs to individuals and the nation at large.

Patients will continue to see plans with high deductibles and streamlined services as employers also feel the pain of healthcare’s high costs. Cleveland Clinic, for example, only receives about half of what patients owe out of pocket, causing bad debt to increase significantly. As a provider and employer, we must do all we can to make care affordable to patients.

Healthcare communications is no longer straightforward. It requires a deep understanding of a complex chain of integrated activities that can be overwhelming to consumers and difficult to clearly communicate. Balancing communications from "one-offs" to the "big picture" is an ongoing challenge. We know people remember "threes," but when you have seven strategic priorities, navigating healthcare communications is akin to managing a ship in the midst of a storm.

There is a greater focus on healthcare IT, with electronic medical records on the rise and mobile applications making the connection between providers and patients more critical than ever. In Abu Dhabi, where Cleveland Clinic is soon to open a facility with the government of the United Arab Emirates, patients receive text-message alerts for appointments to reduce costly mailings to their homes.

There will also be more of a focus on team-based care so hospitals are utilizing all providers to the top of their license. For example, a doctor needn’t take time to conduct a blood pressure check when a nurse or technician is fully capable of doing it. Hospitals are also embracing telemedicine and virtual visits to reduce the costs of care.

Cleveland Clinic launched HeathSpot locally with Marc’s Pharmacy to offer patients alternative options to access our services through the virtual walk-in kiosks for minor, common health issues such as cold and flu, eye conditions, rashes, sore throats, and more. It has a two-way, high-definition video screen that allows patients and providers to have a face-to-face interaction.

Healthcare has never been more challenging or exciting. The opportunities to develop the US system as the best in the world is something in which many across industries have a vested interest. Whether it’s hospitals and employers, insurers and government, device and pharmaceutical industries, we are seeing them work together creatively to transform the healthcare system to meet the needs of the future. Communicating this requires a creative, dedicated, and talented team of professionals to stay in step with the rapidly changing healthcare environment. 

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column will focus on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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