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Thinking Differently about Partnerships in the New Healthcare

June 15, 2015
by Gabriel Perna
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Richard Ong and Cherie Pardue
In today’s healthcare, partnerships are not a differentiator, but the norm. 
That was the wisdom of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute’s 2015 top ten health industry trends. It was reiterated by Richard Ong, the Vice President and CIO of Saint Vincent Health System, out of Erie, Pa. and part of the Allegheny Health Network in Western Pennsylvania, at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executive (CHIME) LEAD Forum, held in McLean, Va., just outside Washington D.C. The event was co-hosted by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2), which is a sister company of HCI under the corporate umbrella of the Vendome Group. 
The day focused around what CHIME says is the HIT Leader 3.0, a crucial player in the rapidly evolving healthcare industry. Ong and Cherie Pardue, Deputy CIO at Adventist Healthcare, a system based in Gaithersburg, Md.,  talked about the role that partnerships play in this evolution. It’s not just the traditional partnerships within an organization, or even the emerging collaborations between payers and providers, but rather every relationship healthcare providers have can be looked at as a partnership, they noted.  
“It’s the exchange of data that brings us all together,” Pardue said to LEAD attendees. “So you never know who you will have to exchange data with, so from that perspective, I look at everyone as a potential partner.” 
Ong and Pardue gave several examples of non-traditional partnerships that brought value to their respective organizations. For Ong’s Saint Vincent, bringing the Pittsburgh Pirates in as a partner brought back value for the organization in the way of improving the patient experience. Similarly, its relationship with Ritz-Carlton (which is where the LEAD Forum was ironically held) is a way to bring up its Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS) scores.   
“The overall mantra for the Ritz is, ‘Ladies and gentleman taking care of ladies and gentleman.’ That’s what they perceive us to be. We think about that at St. Vincent’s and throughout the Allegheny Health Network. What does that mean for us? We get together, have a 5-10 minute huddle experience everyday, and basically talk about the overall mission and the core values,” Ong said. Moreover, he added that this means paying attention to cleanliness and responding immediately to patient call bells. “I’ll go around during rounds and pick up trash that I see. We have a no passing bell rule. If you hear a patient call bell, you can’t ignore it.” 
Adventist Healthcare’s Pardue is bringing together local chapters of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) with the Project Management Institute (PMI). She said the collaboration is meant to help IT project managers better understand healthcare and have healthcare people better understand IT project management. “It’s not about what you’re doing now but rather, pushing yourself way outside and figuring out how to leverage that to benefit the industry,” she said. “Think outside the box. You never know what’s possible.” 
Ong and Pardue did talk about the more traditional partnerships that are encompassing healthcare organizations nowadays. There are partnerships between patients and providers, providers and vendors, providers and providers—in and outside the organization, payers and providers—both as separate entities and through integrated health systems that have both, which Ong called, “Payviders.”
The latter partnership can be a challenge, Ong said, due to conflicts of interests. “They are trying to keep people out of the hospital and we’re worried about our census being low,” he said. 
Naturally, technology will be the vehicle that drives many of these partnerships forward. Whether this is through a telemedicine initiative connecting Ong’s Saint Vincent with Cleveland Clinic or data analytics software that helps integrated health systems manage populations.
 The aim of it all, as both Ong and Pardue said, is to provide patient-centered care. It’s important, Ong noted, for any two partners to share the same vision. Also, CIOs and IT leaders have to look in the mirror and see if they are “ready to be a partner,” and take on risk. “Are you approachable, are you fair…if you are not so, partnership will be difficult for you to come across and to leverage,” he said.