G. Anton Decker, M.D., president of health innovation at Bon Secours Mercy Health (the Maryland-based Bon Secours Health System and Cincinnati-based Mercy Health finalized their merger in September, thus establishing one of the largest Catholic healthcare systems in the nation), has been “around the healthcare block,” one might say.
Prior to his new role as president of health innovation at Bon Secours Mercy Health, and before the merger, Decker was the chief clinical officer for Mercy Health, with system-wide oversight of clinical operations and value- based care. Before that, he served as the president of Mercy Health Physicians, a multi-specialty medical group of over 1,300 providers, and prior to that, he was the chief medical officer and chairman of the board for Banner Medical Group.
Decker brings his experience and expertise to the Convege2Xcelerate conference taking place Oct. 22 at Columbia University in New Yok City. The conference is sponsored by Partners in Digital Health, publisher of Blockchain in Healthcare Today and Telehealth and Medicine Today, and will feature sessions on transformational technologies including blockchain, telehealth and artificial intelligence (AI).
To preview the core health IT topics the conference will focus on, Healthcare Informatics interviewed Decker about how he, and his organization, take on innovation opportunities and how digital health plays a role in operational strategies. Below are excerpts from that discussion.
Can you explain your role—president of health innovation?
I explore innovative partnerships with a focus on data and digital innovation.
Looking at some of the healthcare disrupters out there, non-traditional companies, what picture does that paint for the future?
One may argue that the U.S. health system ran out of money 20 years ago and it’s only catching up to us now. Because hospital reimbursement from commercial payers has still been favorable, health systems could survive. As commercial and governmental reimbursement declines, however, the only option will be for them to reinvent themselves or be disrupted. It’s not simply a light switch; it is happening to us right now, often without realizing it. I am an optimist and believe that the future is bright, although the journey to get there will be rocky.
Previously you have held roles such as chief clinical officer, overseeing clinical operations and value-based care. Can you talk about some of Bon Secours Mercy Health’s specific value-based care initiatives and how things are progressing?
We have a strong commitment to value-based care and are in many shared savings and risk sharing agreements with private and governmental payers.
What advice can you give based on the lessons you have learned?
Be very careful before you go at risk. Many health systems have lost their shirts not realizing how difficult it is. I would advise to take it gradually; first do a shared-savings arrangement with a payer. Understand the nuances, succeed at that for a year or two, and then take on financial risk.
It’s critical to invest in physician leadership and the required infrastructure. Be careful of creating a “shadow health system.” Instead, utilize and improve on the existing system.
From a digital health standpoint, be it products or services, what’s catching your eye these days?
Telemedicine is here to stay, but I don’t know if it will transform healthcare the way some may have hoped for. There are many digital solutions that are seeking to establish their place in the healthcare ecosystem. Ultimately, they will all face the same challenges: engaging consumers and maintaining their engagement; reimbursement; evidence of clinical effectiveness; acceptance by providers; and interoperability with electronic health records (EHRs).
This event is going to have a large blockchain focus. What’s your take on the blockchain “buzz” and if the hype is real or not?
Our health system is exploring the role of blockchain in healthcare. I think the possibilities are numerous, not only from the provider and vendor side, but also from the patient’s perspective. Yes, there is some hype, but that will settle down and blockchain and the application of a distributed ledger in healthcare is here to stay.