Building Synergy to Handle Change

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Unifying healthcare organizations during uncertainty

By Mike Abrams, Ohio Hospital Association

As we dive into 2018, it’s safe to say that change and uncertainty represent the new normal for those of us who work in healthcare. This uncertainty, paired with fierce competition, is not for the faint-hearted. As leaders, we can work to facilitate collaboration that inspires creativity, problem solving and innovation that will serve the greater good.

As president and CEO of the Ohio Hospital Association, I have watched our members deal with these challenges, as well as changes brought on by federal legislation like the HITECH Act and the Affordable Care Act, over the last eight years. To help our member hospitals and health systems address these issues, we have elevated our role to lead, leverage and facilitate collaborations to bring our members closer together and develop new ways to address the issues at hand.

We’ve accomplished this by having open and honest conversations about industry changes and the importance of having a united front. We have also provided forums for our members to leverage their collective intelligence to find solutions to complex problems.

As an association, we are in a unique position to help our members achieve success during times of uncertainty through strategic collaboration. But these collaborations are not exclusive to healthcare associations. Any sector of the industry can collaborate on issues big and small that will impact its patients, its business or its employees. So whether you are a leader in health IT, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, supply chain management or another segment of the industry, there are ways for you and your peers to put your competitive differences aside and work toward collaborative change.

Through this process, we’ve learned a lot that other healthcare organizations can leverage to increase collaboration that inspires change. Some of these best practices include:

Be transparent in your communications. Just because you don’t have all of the answers doesn’t mean you shouldn’t communicate, especially during times of uncertainty. We believe in having open communications with our members through various touch points and across multiple platforms. The first step is to establish a key message platform from which all communications are developed. Then, it is important to communicate unifying next steps to members to avoid confusion and streamline efforts.

For example, with the uncertainty of the future of the ACA, we have increased communications with all points of contacts at member hospitals and health systems through webinars, update calls, newsletters, as well as ongoing print and email blanket communications. Communications specific to CEOs has also increased with monthly calls, bi-monthly newsletters, hospital visits and dynamic dashboards. We have also created a playbook that we publish regularly covering state and federal initiatives. We know our members are busy running their day-to-day operations so this playbook arms them with specific actions they can take to advance their missions during these uncertain times.

Engage stakeholders in direct advocacy to create a unified voice. Ohio’s revenues and projections for the biennium continue to be volatile, creating greater uncertainty around the impact that cuts to Medicaid, and, ultimately, reimbursements will have on hospitals and health systems.

Amid the economic and policy uncertainty, unity of voice among Ohio hospitals is especially critical. Our playbook for statewide issues provides a valuable toolkit for hospitals to conduct site visits by local legislators. When it comes time for state-level testimony, we have our members do the presenting with guidance from our advocacy team. With the Ohio Hospital Association’s facilitation, the hospital community can stress to lawmakers the economic contributions and community benefits the state’s hospitals provide. For example, Ohio’s 233 hospitals directly employ 250,000 Ohioans and four of our member health systems are among the state’s top 10 largest employers.

When I visit Washington, D.C. we engage leaders from some of our member hospitals to talk with our Congressional delegation about the potential impact the repeal of the ACA and other pending federal changes will have on Ohio hospitals and patients. In partnership with the American Hospital Association, we are able to share the collective viewpoints of our members powerfully. This practice gives us an opportunity to shape healthcare policy and other critical issues impacting members such as opioid response, preserving coverage, and ensuring healthcare in our communities.

Create a strategic plan to guide your future. After completing a member-driven, collaborative planning initiative, the OHA Board of Trustees approved a 2016-2018 strategic plan to help guide the Association as it navigates these turbulent times. Collaboratively, OHA members, staff and the board created a plan focused on three strategic initiatives: advocacy, economic sustainability, and patient safety and quality. Goals and tactics were also established as a road map for carrying out these strategic initiatives, and key performance indicators (KPIs) are being used to measure our return on investment (ROI) and to make changes to our strategies as needed. Regardless of what sector of the healthcare industry you work in, having a strategic plan and measuring against success metrics is critical.

While it might be tempting for healthcare leaders to take a “wait and see” approach when addressing uncertainty, that is a mistake. It has never been more important to work together to create collaborations, explore new and better ways of delivering care, and create innovations that will result in better outcomes and healthier communities.

Mike Abrams is the president and CEO of the Ohio Hospital Association, which represents Ohio’s 233 hospitals and 13 health systems. He leads a team of 60 associates, supports a 20-member Board of Trustees, serves on a variety of healthcare and hospital task forces and committees, and works with more than 2,000 members of seven OHA professional societies. Learn more at www.ohiohospitals.org.

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