by Byron Jobe
Vizient President and Chief Executive Officer

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of welcoming our members, suppliers and staff to the Vizient Connections Summit, our first in-person event since the start of the pandemic. The conference centered around the concept of unity, which was palpable in the excitement of peers and colleagues from all corners of the health care industry reuniting for the first time in too long. Not to mention the word Unite in big block letters sprawled across every screen.

But as the ballroom filled and the noise of conversation swelled, I found myself captivated by a different word just above those big block letters – Connections.

Following the welcome, I had a conversation with three of the nation’s foremost health care leaders about some of the most pressing issues facing our industry today. Dr. Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain Healthcare; Dr. Sanja Gupta, neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN; and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As the conversation unfolded, I couldn’t help but notice this idea of connection taking center stage.

Each one recounted stories and statistics that were both heartwarming and heart-wrenching to help inform our approach in addressing these issues. But the common thread was an emphasis on the need for authentic connection, the kind that combines attention with action to produce meaningful change.

Here’s what I mean.

Connection and the workforce

“We lost more providers to suicide than to COVID-19.” – Dr. Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain Healthcare

You’d be hard-pressed to find a health system in this country that doesn’t use some form of the term “patient centered” to describe their mission. And rightly so. However, COVID-19 has forced many health care institutions to turn their attention to the wellbeing of their staff in addition to the patients they serve.

According to a 2021 survey from Kaufman Hall, 100% of respondents face issues with clinical staff, including burnout, difficulty filling vacancies, wage inflation and high turnover rate. Moreover, 92% are having difficulties attracting and retaining support staff.

So how do we care for our caretakers? Dr. Harrison says the best place to start is making sure employees feel their needs are heard, even if the organization can’t meet all of them right away. “We learned we can’t support mental health enough. We can’t invest too much in our people.”

In other words, addressing today’s workforce challenges starts with a personal connection.

Connection and resiliency

“There needs to be a mindset shift to maximize resiliency rather than maximize efficiency.” – Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

In 2017, Dr. Gottlieb visited Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to assess damage to the island’s pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, which account for more than 20% of U.S. drug exports. Nearly all the plants were offline, except one.

Despite its remote location, the lone functioning facility had contracted with the U.S. government to ensure a certain supply of drugs, no matter what. As a result, the facility had “backup generators for backup generators,” as Gottlieb put it.

While other facilities had maximized efficiency, this mindset left them vulnerable to disruptions. On the other hand, the remote facility used a different paradigm of resiliency, which meant assessing a more holistic view of data, risks and outcomes.

What if we applied this same way of thinking to our health care system more broadly? How do our care delivery pipelines and quality programs fare against the slightest gust of wind? What if we balanced our focus on lean operations with an equal concentration on supply resiliency, no matter what?

Adopting this mindset means leveraging a deep understanding of the data at our disposal to create a comprehensive view that’s grounded in reality. We must understand that every data point in health care is, at some level, connected to a soul.

In other words, a sustainable future for health care relies on reconnecting core values with business priorities to deliver on commitments in the face of adversity.

Connection and health equity

“We spend twice as much on health care as the next largest country, but life expectancy has been going down even before COVID.” – Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN

COVID-19 has forced us to confront many long-standing problems in our industry, but perhaps none as potent as health inequity. Dr. Harrison points to data showing the average African American lost 4 years of life expectancy due to COVID, with Latinx losing three years and Whites one year. Other countries average less than a year for their entire population. All this despite the U.S.’s massive spending on health care.

COVID-19 has also brought new vocabulary to the health equity conversation. Knowing the difference between terms like inequity, inequality, disparities, systemic racism, social determinants and others means we can have more meaningful conversations about transformation. And the more attention we give to these areas, the greater the demand for quality research to help treat root causes.

Now, this isn’t to say our industry is completely unaware of these issues. According to a recent Vizient survey, 72% of organizations surveyed are collecting clinical outcomes data related to social determinants of health, and more than 80% of respondents use community health needs assessments to inform interventions. However, only 45% standardize how they deploy social needs screenings across all their care sites and less than 60% measure the direct impact of their social needs programs.

In other words, addressing health equity means developing a deep understanding of the personal connection between the role of the health system and the local community it serves.

Connection and the future

We often talk about the future of health care as some combination of new technology, reimagined payment models and optimized systems. While these kinds of tools are certainly useful, they are just that – tools. They are necessary, but not sufficient.

Thanks to the thoughtful conversations at this year’s summit, I was reminded that the future of health care is first and foremost about ideas. However, it is more important than ever that the ideas we conceive and pursue don’t leave behind our purpose—providing high-quality care for patients.

Clearly, the challenges we face cannot be solved through funding, research or optimization alone. We must first have an idea of what we want the future to look like. And I believe the key to a healthier, more equitable and more sustainable future starts with connection.

About the author: Byron Jobe is president and chief executive officer of Vizient. Jobe has been with the company for over 10 years and he has a long history of leadership roles in the health care industry, including in the areas of strategy, operations and finance. Jobe began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and he has a broad and diverse experience, including later positions with Baylor Scott & White Health, Healthvision and Vizient.

Published: December 15, 2021