There is nothing wrong with healthy competition. It's the backbone of our economic system, making people—and organizations—strive to do better.
Competition definitely has its place in the American healthcare system. It drives us to attain better outcomes for patients and enrich their experience, as well as improve community health and wellness, ensure value and broaden accessibility. However, challenges arise when healthcare organizations begin to confuse winning on behalf of those we serve with economic successes, failing to recognize opportunities to create a stronger healthcare system within our communities.
As healthcare organizations are transformed via new value-based models, we need to put aside unnecessary competition and collaborate more closely to solve our biggest problems. Let's take cancer, a competitor that truly deserves our collective attention. Yes, cancer, that age-old nemesis that, except for collaborative efforts from the National Cancer Institute and other essential research activities, is still addressed singularly by most health systems.
This is a big effort for us to take on collectively. The truth is, after all these years, billions in research, moonshots and other concerted efforts that have made some great improvements, cancer is still on the rise. And while we're getting better at treatment, the cost of diagnosis, medications and procedures also continues to soar.
To add to the complexity of the issue, researchers have found—and are still finding—that the job of eradicating cancer remains a tall order. In fact, competing against cancer means taking on an incredibly powerful force. To quote Siddhartha Mukherjee in his landmark book, The Emperor of All Maladies—A Biography of Cancer: “Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking 'sanctuary' in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.”
So how can we go after this “parallel species” together? As leaders, we must mobilize resources, and intellectual and capital investments across our communities, making them as affordable, effective and accessible as possible. The historical silos and single organizational efforts are not effective enough to win the game with this opponent. We need to welcome bigger conversations among academic centers, research resources and community providers. We must work together to bring the best and the brightest to rally for our patients, and make treatment and prevention as close to their homes as possible. It will truly take a community of resources to make this happen.
There is a precedent to make this happen. City of Hope has had good results with this type of cooperation. In Southern California's Inland Empire, we are joining with a long-standing inpatient facility to create a seamless system of care where patients can access a full spectrum of medical and surgical cancer services conveniently near their homes. Similar partnerships are in place in Los Angeles County, and our plans for Orange County will be a further evolution of this vision.
This is not just me, an executive of a major cancer center, charged with the responsibility to improve care for the Orange County community. I also speak as someone who has heard the concerns of friends, neighbors and others who have been challenged by this opponent. It's time to come together against this force that will impact 1 in 3 lives.
It's time to collectively acknowledge that we must work together on all of the biggest healthcare challenges of our day. Let's acknowledge cancer is the real competition. Cancer is the one to beat!