Mastering the Flu

The current outbreak is a test for a new business strategy many healthcare organizations are adopting.

The flu makes just about everyone miserable; a racking cough, an incapacitating fever, aches, pains, and often a sore throat. It can be deadly, too, especially among vulnerable populations like the elderly and young children. 

But at some healthcare organizations—this particularly nasty flu season is a test of a new business strategy, a focus on preventing illnesses and improving outcomes rather than getting paid for treating the sick. It’s a challenge on realigning healthcare leaders and teams around a long-term shift in care. 

Indeed, this year’s flu outbreak comes as many organizations are trying to adopt value-based care. In this model, doctors and hospitals are rewarded for keeping people healthy and for providing high quality, evidenced-based care for the sick in a cost-effective, consumer-friendly way, says Harry Greenspun, M.D., Korn Ferry’s chief medical officer and managing director of the firm’s Health Solutions practice.

Value-based care could help cut down the flu season’s significant financial cost. U.S. workers miss a combined 11 million workdays at an estimated $7 billion a year in lost productivity and sick days every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Value-based care incentivizes health systems to ensure their populations receive flu shots and provide rapid access (through telemedicine or urgent care centers) to convenient, lower cost care rather than at expensive hospital emergency rooms. In short, fewer people getting sick, and less spent on delivering care.

As compelling as this sounds, it not as easy to achieve. Not all healthcare professionals have this type of agility or persuasiveness, essential skills in a value-based model. In fact, some of the skills that make for a great leader in the current fee-for-service environment are counterproductive in the new model. Those who excelled driving conformity and maximizing efficiency of procedures can find themselves lost trying to innovate or navigate a highly matrixed organization.  

In some respects, healthcare organizations are getting an assist from the virus itself, given that it’s a public health event that happens every year. “It’s an opportunity, a known thing, like Christmas,“ Greenspun says.  “Get your shopping done early. Make this part of your regular planning to experiment and learn.”