An adage often used to describe schizophrenic weather conditions might now be best applied to the healthcare marketplace: If you don't like it, wait five minutes, and it'll change.
Part of healthcare's constant evolution is the transformation of systems from groups of independent hospitals to systems of networks, complete with physician groups and ancillary services.
What that means for hospitals is that it's no longer enough to simply be aligned with a national system.
Instead, systems now must work to create locally integrated delivery networks with their hospitals, and sometimes that means partnering with competitors to do it.
"We've always said that healthcare is organized and delivered locally, and . . . to maintain your local presence, sometimes you have to go beyond what you have done traditionally," says William Thompson, senior vice president for strategic development at St. Louis-based SSM Health Care.
That's the messages from SSM executives who are doing just that.
At the ACHE congress in Chicago, three SSM executives are scheduled to talk about how to negotiate that transformation. Besides Thompson, those expected to speak on the topic Tuesday, March 3, are William Schoenhard, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Stephanie McCutcheon, regional president/system vice president. The sessions, called "Transformation from a System of Hospitals to a System of Networks," begin at 10: 30 a.m. and 2: 30 p.m.
"Frankly, we would like to share some of the challenges and some of the lessons learned," Schoenhard says.
A Roman Catholic healthcare system, SSM owns or manages 20 acute-care hospitals in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
An example of SSM's move to a system of networks is a joint operating agreement it has with a competing system in southern Illinois, Chicago-based Felician Services.
Felician owns two hospitals, including 276-bed St. Mary's Hospital, Centralia, Ill., which is about 30 miles from SSM's 152-bed Good Samaritan Regional Health Center in Mount Vernon, Ill.
"There was a recognition that working together, we could do a better job of fulfilling the needs of the people in the region rather than just competing with each other," Schoenhard says. The joint agreement brings together physician groups, as well as services including ambulatory and home care.
SSM says creating integrated delivery networks in local communities helps in contracting with managed-care companies, and it allows systems to centralize some services, such as purchasing.
Networks also allow systems to decentralize other duties and let local communities and hospitals tailor the programs they need, McCutcheon says. Working together also means that one system doesn't have to provide all the services or the money to pay for them.
But these networks don't come without their challenges, among them antitrust problems.
It also can be difficult to find a partner that shares a common mission and to meld two organizational cultures.
"The objective is to have the best care for people to keep them healthy at a predictable quality and price," McCutcheon says.