Blog Post

Healthcare Upside/Down: Building Resilience in Healthcare

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ECG’s radio show and podcast, Healthcare Upside Down, offers unfiltered perspectives on what’s working in US healthcare and what’s not. Hosted by ECG principal Dr. Nick van Terheyden, each episode features guest panelists who explore the upsides and downsides of healthcare in the US—and how to make the system work for everyone.

Prepare for the unexpected.

On the one hand, it seems like sound advice; on the other, it rings hollow, because how can we prepare for something we can’t predict? Most of us didn’t expect a pandemic to upend our lives for several years, for example, and it’s fair to say we didn’t adequately prepare for it. And now, in a climate of rising interest rates, soaring inflation, and the looming potential of an economic recession, anxiety about the future is understandable.

But how about a little optimism?

Our guest on episode 38 of Healthcare Upside Down is Chris Collins, President of ECG Management Consultants.

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Like most people, I read the news with growing concern. But I’m hopeful that our resilience has improved as a society thanks to the stress our economic system has endured as a result of the pandemic—and our response to it. Much of our society came together across geography, class, gender, ethnicity, and income level to combat a novel virus that wreaked havoc on our world.

That’s not to suggest it was perfect—far from it—but as I often say, my glass is always full: half full of liquid and half full of air. I seek the positive in as many circumstances as I can, and what I saw time and again over the past two years was extraordinary feats by so many people working together to support one another through extraordinarily difficult times.

So as we brace ourselves for the challenges ahead, what can we learn from these past experiences? And how can healthcare organizations use this knowledge to become more resilient?

“I think it’s a matter of how nimble you are as an organization to adapt to the economic environment that you’re entering,” notes Chris Collins, President of ECG Management Consultants.

Chris’s insights are sought after by healthcare systems and senior executives who are struggling with razor-thin margins and limited resources. On episode 38 of Healthcare Upside Down, he explains that while the pandemic pushed the healthcare system to its limits, it also revealed its strengths. Here are a few excerpts.

Positives from the pandemic.

“Health systems didn’t have a choice—they had to change the way they were delivering care overnight. With a lot of our clients, I would say it was a net positive experience, because everyone just shed their titles, dropped what they were doing, and found themselves responding to this pandemic. Even hospitals that were competitors worked really closely together in a mission-based, mission-focused way to serve the community. They did a remarkable job.”

Will pandemic struggles fuel future resilience?

“I would hope so. I think that in a lot of these organizations, [the pandemic] brought teams closer together, and they felt reconnected with the community. And you can see how the community celebrated and thanked the medical staffs. It shed light on the healthcare system and helped society appreciate it more. I also think it reminded us that [healthcare] needs to be patient-centric. We need to be a little disruptive and get out of our comfort zone, and provide multidisciplinary care and really mix up the teams to focus on the patient and healthcare delivery. So I think there are some things that were positive, and it was pretty remarkable to witness.”

Three things for a health system CEO to think about ahead of a possible recession.

“Number one, and this is going to sound a little twisted, but a pandemic followed by a recession might just be what we need to solve for the number one issue in healthcare today—the staffing shortage. You are absolutely going to see nurses and other healthcare professionals put off retirement, go from part time to full time, and reenter the workforce. We lost a lot out of the workforce permanently due to burnout and the Great Resignation, but I think you’re going to see a wave of folks come into it. So if you’ve got your recruitment plan, your recruitment office, and your recruitment channels ready, you can finally address that issue.

“Number two, methodically examine everything you’re doing in terms of growth plans and planning initiatives. Prioritize those now, and do some ‘wargaming’ in terms of what’s mission critical. What I saw during the pandemic is that some health systems paused planning initiatives and then had to play catch-up post-pandemic. Keep the planning initiatives going so you’re well positioned post-recession to implement.

“The last thing I would say is, don’t waste the opportunity to look at organizational design and effectiveness, leadership structure, governance, how we make decisions—a lot of these systems have grown. And [health systems’] management model has become very flat, very horizontal. And so it makes them less nimble to respond to a very challenging and complex market.”

On the podcast, Chris talks about the future of telehealth, consumerism, and what health systems have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Edited by: Matt Maslin