November 17, 2022 Episode 048

Providence’s Sara Vaezy Tells the Tale of Two Health Systems: Fixing Fundamentals While Focusing on Innovation

It’s a difficult time for health systems who are struggling with financial pressures brought on by rising costs, patient volumes that continue to remain below pre-pandemic levels, and a host of other issues putting their balance sheets in the red. But at the same time, the need for innovation has never been greater. New technology will be essential to streamline operations and meet consumer demand for new care delivery models while staying ahead of big tech, retailers and others adding pressure for providers to evolve and transform.

Providence’s Sara Vaezy Tells the Tale of Two Health Systems: Fixing Fundamentals While Focusing on Innovation

How can providers focus on getting business fundamentals back in order, while also looking to the future and accelerating their focus on innovation?

On this episode of Healthcare is Hard, Sara Vaezy, chief strategy and digital officer at Providence, talked to Keith Figlioli about the need to address both of these issues at once – and how to do it. Some of the topics they cover include:

  • New economics for providers. While there may have been an initial hope about getting through the pandemic and getting “back to normal,” it’s now clear that the fundamental economics of healthcare – especially for providers – will never be the same. Sara says the industry is starting to get comfortable with the notion that provider economics have eroded in a long lasting way. Recognizing this fact and finding new ways to diversify will be essential for providers to thrive.
  • Building beyond acute care. Health systems are being forced to choose if they want to focus on being the center of acute care in their communities and be part of a larger network of services, or broaden beyond that to provide more elements of the network themselves. Sara says not every hospital or health system has the resources to expand on their own, but sees Providence on a path to becoming a “health company with a care delivery arm.” She talked about how this model could even give providers national scale, as opposed to operating within a geographic footprint.
  • The importance of partners. Innovation is essential for every health system in one way or another, and Sara admits that it’s hard to do on your own. Those who cannot drive meaningful innovation themselves will be forced to consolidate or partner with others. Those who can and have been driving innovation will continue to do so, but Sara predicts that even they will form more innovation consortia and financing partnerships to focus on key areas where reach and scale will create a more efficient cost structure for innovation. This will also create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to work directly for or with health systems.
  • The advantage of incumbents. It’s easy to be critical of healthcare incumbents, but Sara points out how important it is to not forget that they still deliver the vast amount of care at scale in the U.S. This is a significant advantage that can be amplified even more when incumbents work together. As she says several times, it’s difficult to drive innovation and the transformation of healthcare alone. Collaboration will be critical.

To hear Keith and Sara talk about these topics and more, listen to this episode of Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders.