Aligning with Aspirin

A new study raises questions about smart uses for aspirin. How do healthcare leaders communicate such research?

To get an idea of what it’s like to be a physician after a national media outlet reports a new medical breakthrough, picture how a Twitter feed frenetically lights up with mentions after a tweet goes viral. Or, in times past, a switchboard overloaded with calls. How many times have you asked your doctor how much wine or coffee you can drink after reading a new study about the effects of alcohol or caffeine on health, for example? Now, multiply that by the number of patients who likely also saw the news.

The heightened awareness among patients to their treatment options, coupled with the way the industry is structured, means healthcare leaders face a unique challenge in how new medical research is communicated throughout organizations and to doctors, and on to patients. “It’s really up to the physician to keep up with the latest developments, get training or education if needed, and decide on treatment changes,” says Warren Ross, senior client partner and global sector leader for Academic Medicine at Korn Ferry. “There’s no one to really ensure how or if new research is put into practice.” This dynamic is peculiar to healthcare; in most every other business, new policies or procedures are cascaded down from the top.

The latest example of this dynamic hit the news recently when new studies on low-dose aspirin likely prompted patient questions to doctors. Hospitals, however, rarely get involved in communicating medical information to doctors, and treatment conflicts between physicians and specialists can certainly occur.

Alignment challenges are becoming more prominent as the industry consolidates and more physicians end up being employed directly by hospitals and healthcare systems, instead of functioning as independent contractors. Mergers between and among hospital chains, pharmacies, insurers, and drugmakers led to a record-breaking $332 billion in deal value last year, and the industry is on pace to break that mark this year.

A key element to the current consolidation wave is aligning incentives to promote a value-based care system that aims to improve patient outcomes and lower costs through proactively managing critical care issues before they emerge. A big part of that involves aligning on changes to treatment plans based on new research and communicating those changes throughout the organizations and to patients. Harry Greenspun, MD, chief medical officer and managing director, Korn Ferry Health Solutions, says part of the reason achieving alignment is so elusive is because some decisions like corporate policy come from the top, while others, such as clinical practice, come from either medical leadership or area specialists.

“The line between the two can be murky,” Greenspun says.