What issues are currently of greatest strategic importance to hospital and health system executives? The Health Care Advisory Board research team conducted the “Advisory Board Research Annual Health Care CEO Survey” to find out.
“While the survey tests interest in a wide range of topics, issues related to margin management—whether through revenue growth or cost control—rose to the top for 2018. In a particularly notable contrast to years’ past, cost control eclipsed revenue growth as executives' most urgent strategic priority for the year,” says Yulan Egan, practice manager, Advisory Board Research.
The nationwide survey of 146 C-suite executives was conducted between December 2017 and March 2018. This year, the researchers asked respondents to rate 33 issues on a scale of “A” to “F,” with “A” indicating the greatest interest in learning more from Advisory Board researchers about the topic.
Here are the top five areas of interest to hospital and health system executives, based on the survey.
- Preparing the enterprise for sustainable cost control
This is the No. 1 concern for hospital executives (62% said they were extremely interested). That’s a higher percentage than any other topic received in the last four years, and 5% higher than for any topic received in 2017.
“The focus on long-term sustainability reflects a belief among healthcare executives that today’s margin pressures are permanent and structural in nature,” says Egan. “As a result, the current focus on cost control does not center on the types of temporary campaigns organizations have historically pursued to weather an economic downturn or a sudden shift in reimbursement policy. Instead, executives are looking for strategies to permanently bend the expense curve; doing so will require radical improvements to cost structure, such as redesigning staffing models, rationalizing service lines across their market, and even transforming their facility footprint,” she says.
2. Innovative approaches to expense reduction
For the second year in a row, C-Suite executives voted this as the No. 2 area of interest (56% of executives were extremely interested)
The healthcare cost problem has executives looking to go beyond the tried-and-true cost strategies of the past, according to Egan.
“Of particular interest today are strategies for controlling expense growth while avoiding mass lay-offs and other major drivers of employee disengagement,” she says. “Executives are also exploring the need to invest in innovative new technologies—like artificial intelligence—to drive drastic improvements in productivity and efficiency.”
3. Exploring diversified, innovative revenue streams
This number 3 area of interest (56%) has ranked near the top for the past two years.
“Executives increasingly believe that relying on conventional determinants of market share—such as competing for referrals from independent physicians—will be insufficient for driving necessary levels of revenue growth,” Egan says. “Instead, hospitals and health systems are shifting their focus to include nontraditional sources of growth, such as contracting directly with employers, commercializing intellectual property, and launching innovation hubs.”
4. Boosting outpatient procedural market share
This response has also ranked near the top for the past two years, with 50% of executives being extremely interested in this topic this year.
Technology advancements, reimbursement shifts, high deductibles, and evolving patient expectations continue the outmigration of care away from the inpatient setting, according to the survey.
“With lower barriers to entry in the outpatient setting, health systems find themselves in an increasingly competitive landscape, despite having made heavy investments in ambulatory care in recent years,” Egan says. “Successfully securing and growing outpatient market share will require hospitals and health systems to compete on the basis of convenience, service, and affordability—not just their clinical capabilities or brand.”
5. Meeting rising consumer demands for service
According to the survey, 50% of executives are extremely interested in this topic.
“As transparency in healthcare has grown thanks to services such as Yelp, service experience is becoming more important than ever before,” Egan says. “Hospitals and health systems are also facing pressure from a growing number of consumer-focused competitors who are raising the bar on experience before, during, and after episodes of care.”
The goal, according to Egan, is to not only meet—but exceed—consumer expectations. For this, “executives will need to think holistically about improving patients’ experience with their system, from the moment they search for a provider to the point at which they ultimately pay their bill,” she says.