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AHA Conference to Shed Light on the Strategic Role of Innovation During COVID

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   August 24, 2020

AHA's Andy Shin shares insights that will be explored in an upcoming AHA SHSMD virtual event, which will focus on how leaders can navigate the new and shifting realities of a post-COVID world.

While the coronavirus pandemic has yet to abate, there is a thirst for shared knowledge about best practices, lessons learned, and how to begin recovering and rebuilding from this experience.

The American Hospital Association's (AHA) AHA Center for Health Innovation and the Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) will tackle those subjects and more during a September 14-16 virtual conference focused on COVID-19 leadership innovation: Navigating a New Reality: Health Care Leaders Confront the Future

The event is designed to bring together leading thinkers, strategists, and innovators who are shifting their business models in response to the greatest public health crisis of our time, according to the AHA. The program will feature organizations that are exploring new models of care, redesigning staff roles, workflows, and relationships for future flexibility, and examining ways to be more resilient during turbulent times. Participants will explore lessons learned about how to deploy digital tools to better engage patients in a post-pandemic world, ways to integrate physical and behavioral health, and how to achieve equity.

HealthLeaders spoke with Andy Shin, JD, MPH, MBA, COO of the AHA Center for Health Innovation, to discuss how the innovation landscape has changed since the pandemic, how it may impact hospital and health system strategy moving forward, and what conference participants could expect to learn from each other. Following are excerpts from the interview, lightly edited for space and clarity.

HealthLeaders: How is the pandemic driving lasting innovation for hospitals and healthcare systems?

Andy Shin: One is going to be from a process and operations point of view—strategy—and the other is going to be [focused on] tools or methods.

The impact of going virtual— from a care delivery and process point of view—is going to be the first point of emphasis. The movement to virtual is not going to be just within the context of what we have to do at a time where social distancing and remote work are occurring, but it's also about how that starts to get integrated as part of the overall business model moving forward within the context of improving quality and providing more access to care.

You're going to see a lot more discussion about how you integrate virtual care into the daily workflow. What does that mean in terms of workforce? What does that mean in terms of financing, reimbursement, and overall strategy?

From an organizational culture point of view, a lot of organizations that had put innovation in a particular bucket, center, team, or committee—because they were on the front lines of say, identifying digital solutions for remote home monitoring or chat bots or other immediate solutions during the surge—now that they're heading towards strategic planning and recovery, they're asking these innovation teams to be much more integrated into near-term strategy and operations. We're seeing this trend being replicated throughout the entire field. It's really a mindset shift of thinking about adaptability, managing uncertainty, and working that into the strategic planning process, which really is in its core, integrating innovation as part of both near-term and medium-term strategy, which will have pretty significant effects in the long term.

HL: What business models have experienced the greatest transition?

Shin: Clearly, fee-for-service acute care delivery is something that experienced the most amount of shock during this particular pandemic and for obvious reasons. We can't all be in one place. There was a surge of patients in hospitals that needed to be triaged. And there was a lack of capacity, both from a workforce and space perspective and beds in the ICU, ventilators, PPE. For all those reasons, the acute care system and the rest of the healthcare system experienced incredible amounts of strain.

There's no doubt  that trying to keep people in the most appropriate level of care, which can include the home, has been essential during the most acute phase of the pandemic.

From a business model perspective, how you start to convert to virtual care, which is obviously reimbursed differently from a workforce management and staffing perspective? It is managed very differently. A lot of folks had not [yet] fully integrated online scheduling or appointment management. In virtual care that's a whole different set of skills so there's a huge workforce implication there. And let's not forget the cyber aspect of all of this. Cyber was a huge concern prior to the pandemic. When you put that much more online, the cyber side of things is going to really ramp up in the months [ahead] and even for years to come. Clearly, that has some significant implications for how organizations are allocating resources and where the priorities are.

From a financial point of view, what you're starting to see now are discussions about whether or not there are other models out there that create more resiliency in the system should we experience another surge like this, and the importance of things like stable cashflow in order to keep the lights on. A global capitation perspective, or prepayment—which is how most people are describing it now—is suddenly a potential option for health systems or hospitals that maybe don't otherwise have the ability to handle another surge like this should it occur?

The other side of the coin would be in thinking about what operationally going forward could change from a business model perspective. … I think that the sharing economy approach is something that could really start to take off. We started dabbling in that in terms of ventilators because of the uneven nature of the pandemic. You saw some areas experienced huge surges and others, not so much. From a ventilator capacity standpoint, you don't necessarily need every single state at the exact same time to have quadrupled or quintupled their [number] of ventilators. It would make a lot more sense to share ventilators from the area that wasn't experiencing a surge with areas that were experiencing surges. We actually created a ventilator reserve and coordination of partnership with the federal government and other stakeholders to bring that sharing economy approach.

I would suspect that looking forward, as we think about cost containment, operational efficiencies, and preparedness, that sharing economy approach could be probably applied in other areas [such as] medical equipment and maybe even space. That's a really interesting business model innovation that people are going be talking about.

HL: How will this event help hospital and health system executives prepare for the future?

Shin: In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of information that just needed to be shared. In many cases, best practices had not been established, so really through a sort of crowdsourcing methodology, the field was able to quickly understand how to implement best practices to handle the surge. As you think about recovery, that need continues, in terms of understanding best practices.

The focus of this particular event is really from a leadership lens; most of the participants are executive leaders. It's really about how have you effectively implemented or adopted some of these innovations or transformations or adapted quickly to the changing environment and managed that uncertainty, but then there's a lens forward.

As we think about recovery from a leadership perspective, how do you start to manage that uncertainty going forward and be best prepared to align future decisions with information that [still] may be coming? We're in an environment where uncertainty is still pervasive. As more information becomes available, we're constantly iterating and creating—not just adopting best practices—but really formulating those next practices that will take us forward.

HL: What opportunities did the pandemic create for transformation?

Shin: While this event may be an anchor for a discussion, it's really part of a much larger tapestry or plan for sharing knowledge and convening the field around relief, recovery, and rebuilding or reimagining the system. What we're trying to do is to create anchor points where we can convene particular thought leaders together and have networking sessions. We are integrating some new tools and platforms that will facilitate that networking to the extent we can in a virtual format, but it's part of a larger set of activities and resources that will [connect] with other anchor points [for a constant flow of information].

Because of the time we're in, [it's important to share] knowledge so that we're not learning without being connected to peers who are also going through the same thing or have done it before. We're trying to decentralize that knowledge capital and really make it more accessible and democratized in a way such that it will be a constant drumbeat. The only way to manage the uncertainty on the ground today is by constant facilitation of information and sharing of knowledge.

“Innovation teams [will] be much more integrated into near-term strategy and operations.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


The pandemic is driving lasting innovation for hospitals and healthcare systems.

Business models most greatly impacted or presenting opportunities for improvement include fee-for-service acute care, workforce management and staffing of virtual care, and financing.

Innovation will play an increasing role in strategy development.

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