November 9, 2018 Episode 001

Insider Bert Zimmerli Shares Intermountain’s Innovation Imperative with the Healthcare is Hard Podcast

Insider Bert Zimmerli Shares Intermountain’s Innovation Imperative with the Healthcare is Hard Podcast

Bert Zimmerli has been CFO at Intermountain Healthcare for 15 years, a role he’s held through three CEO changes and four different board chairs. As Bert says, he’s a survivor, and he’s clearly doing a lot of things right because Intermountain is the only health system in the country to earn an “Aa1” rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

In the first episode of Healthcare Is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders, Bert joins LRVHealth’s Keith Figlioli to talk about the focus on quality care that’s behind Intermountain’s success and how innovation is a key driving factor.

Bert’s desire to focus on improving and delivering quality care is the reason he joined Intermountain in 2003. With a mission to develop a model for quality care since its inception as a not-for-profit health system in 1975, Intermountain has offered a unique environment for Bert to make a lasting impact. Based in Salt Lake City, Intermountain now consists of 22 hospitals, a broad range of clinics and services, 1,400 primary and secondary care physicians at more than 185 clinics in the Intermountain Medical Group, and health insurance plans from SelectHealth.

Fulfilling a mission to always improve care is a bold charge that requires constant innovation. And Bert admits that it’s especially challenging to con look for change when your organization is already recognized as a leader in its field.

In the debut episode of Healthcare Is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders – recorded live onstage at the Digital Health Innovation Summit – Bert provides an inside look at how Intermountain is creating a model for delivering care by discussing a variety of topics, including:

  • Creating an Environment That Supports Innovation – While there’s a commonly held opinion that healthcare systems are too slow-moving and incapable of innovating, Intermountain is dispelling that myth. Bert talks about a strategy to give smart and enthusiastic people opportunities to pursue their passions and the cycle it creates by helping to attract the best and the brightest. An environment that supports innovation both intellectually and financially not only stops good ideas from “walking out the door,” but also spawns even more ideas that can be nurtured.
  • Examples of Fostering Innovation – Intermountain’s program to hatch new ventures has developed a track record for success, already spinning out four companies. While they’re owned by Intermountain, these companies are organized like any other start-up with independent management, employees, and financial structures. Bert goes into detail about Civica Rx – one start-up Intermountain is behind that’s a little different. Civica Rx is a generic drug company formed and governed by seven leading health systems to address the high prices and shortages of lifesaving medications. The company has drawn a tremendous amount of positive interest and is aiming to have its first product in the market sometime next year.
  • Navigating Risk – Fostering innovation and fully supporting new entities necessitates an ability to take on clinical and financial risks. Bert talks about Intermountain’s realities as a risk-bearing organization and new approaches to managing these risks. For example, he touches upon agreements with large pharmaceutical companies to share risks based on the success of their products. The approach is simple: Intermountain will pay for products that work and contribute to better outcomes, but not for products that don’t work. It’s a model aligned with Intermountain’s history of implementing evidence-based practices.
  • Managing Cost and Complexity – Healthcare isn’t becoming unaffordable, it already is unaffordable in Bert’s eyes. That’s why innovation is an imperative to better managing cost and complexity. He sees cost as the overwhelming problem and with a pragmatic approach, looks at labor and benefits as a key driver that accounts for 50% to 60% of cash costs within a health system. Bert sees room for improvement in how healthcare talent is being used and doesn’t subscribe to the idea that there’s already a physician shortage. That’s why Intermountain is dedicating resources to innovations like telehealth that will better use existing resources to serve more people.

To hear Bert Zimmerli talk about these topics and more, listen to the first episode of Healthcare Is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders.