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Affordability and value should go hand-in-hand in healthcare, helping optimize the patient experience. Hospital and health system leaders across the United States are tackling affordability directly — but they can’t do it alone.

Addressing affordability will require all parts of the healthcare sector to think differently and act collaboratively. Every stakeholder — hospitals, physicians, drug and device companies, insurers, the government, even patients — has a role to play.

In 2017, the American Hospital Association launched The Value Initiative to give hospitals the resources and tools they need to advance affordability. 

“The cost of healthcare is one of the most concerning things for individuals and families, as well as employers, and the government,” says Nancy Agee, AHA’s immediate former chair and current president and CEO of Carilion Clinic in Virginia. “We wanted to address the challenge head on.”

The initiative launched after extensive dialogue with hospital leaders around the country. In its first year, The Value Initiative has done extensive research and engaged over 2,500 participants including patients, providers, and others in the healthcare community in the conversation around affordability and value. They looked at healthcare delivery systems, new payment models, quality improvement strategies, and more.

“We’ve been very successful,” Agee says, noting they’ve improved health outcomes and reduced costs.

For example, there’s been a decrease in early elective deliveries — with less need or shorter stays — for babies in neonatal intensive care. The AHA is also working toward more understandable bills and educating consumers.

“We stand with the patients to do the right thing,” says Agee, explaining getting high quality and affordable healthcare can be complicated, still, “we can help be a part of the solution.”

Patient-focused

The AHA is working with hospital systems across the country to enhance the patient experience, including making sure there’s health equity — providing the best care for all patients, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geographic location, or socioeconomic status.

“We want to work really hard to put the patient at the center of everything that we do and make sure our efforts are geared toward making the system accessible and affordable,” says Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System in New Jersey and chairman of the board of trustees for the AHA.

He says our healthcare system is expensive, in part due to technology costs and world-class medical teams.

Gragnolati says changes are underway but cautions they “won’t happen overnight.”

He’s attended many AHA executive forums and moderated panels for The Value Initiative. He knows it’s important to bring new partners and different voices into the conversation, including those that are often labeled as disruptors.

Gragnolati says tech companies want to help make healthcare easier to navigate and they want to work collaboratively.

Technological impact

Consumer access to healthcare has been improved by technology too.

“We continue to see a real evolution in technology as it relates to improving integration,” says Melinda L. Estes, M.D., president and CEO of Saint Luke’s Health System in Missouri and chair-elect of the AHA Board of Trustees.

A few examples: patients can use smartphone apps to access their records and contact their doctors; electronic medical records have streamlined recordkeeping, resulting in fewer medical errors and reductions in duplicate testing. 

Telemedicine, such as providing healthcare via tech devices like smartphone conferencing, is a growing tool to help treat patients living in rural or remote areas or to provide follow-up care for patients at a distance from a specialist provider in another city or state.

“If you combine telemedicine with wearable technology and other remote monitoring tools, you can help patients stay at home and manage their diseases, particularly chronic diseases like COPD and diabetes with fewer hospital admissions,” says Dr. Estes, noting at her hospital, Garmin wearables monitor the vitals and activity levels of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patients.

“The whole of this is quality of life,” says Dr. Estes.

Kristen Castillo, [email protected]

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