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The health care transformation — changing to serve people better

Today, we are witnessing a restructuring of health care. New organizations are entering the field using fresh approaches and advanced technologies.
Today, we are witnessing a restructuring of health care. New organizations are entering the field using fresh approaches and advanced technologies.
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I recently met a self-employed couple in good health who told me they struggle to pay their health insurance premiums. They are in their early 60s and pay $1,700 a month for coverage — a steep increase from the previous year. They employ good health habits, use medical services wisely and shop carefully for the right insurance. But health care costs place great stress on both their spirits and their budgets, limiting their ability to spend on other important priorities.

And this couple is reasonably well-off compared to many others we meet: those raising families, young people starting out and people coping with illnesses. The cost of health care is a serious financial drain and a quality-of-life problem. For many, it is literally a matter of life or death. It touches all of us, and the problem has been getting worse.

As chairman of Intermountain Healthcare’s Board of Trustees, I work with other volunteer trustees and corporate leaders who feel a heightened and personal responsibility to address this problem of rising costs, which is directly tied to people’s health, well-being and ability to access needed care.

Despite the challenges, I believe real progress is being made, and more improvements are on the horizon. In fact, a true health care transformation is occurring in Utah and across the nation, thanks to remarkable technological innovation and system improvements. We are in an era of rapid and turbulent change, and Intermountain is in the forefront of innovation, quality care and affordability — with much work ahead.

Intermountain was founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1975 through the donation of 15 hospitals by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leaders had but one request of the new organization: that it should always strive to be a model health system — a “beacon” and “shining light” to others in the nation and the world. At Intermountain, we have always done our utmost to honor that request; indeed, we have been guided by it for more than 40 years.

We, the community representatives who govern Intermountain, are committed to making care as affordable as possible. At a time of health system turmoil, Intermountain’s leaders have anticipated trends and embraced innovation. We see opportunities to improve safety, quality, access, affordability and the patient experience. We must pursue these opportunities, even though change can be uncomfortable. We have a duty to be bold. We trustees have asked Intermountain’s leaders to take the organization into a new era.

Today, we are witnessing a restructuring of health care. New organizations are entering the field using fresh approaches and advanced technologies. One new company was announced recently by Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase. Buffett said, “The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.” He said the new venture would “check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”

The announcement serves as a wake-up call to health care organizations that have been slow to address the problem of rising costs. Intermountain has been wide awake in this regard for a very long time — we are, in fact, widely regarded as a national model for high-value care.

But Intermountain must become even more efficient while continuing world-class patient care. Last year, we began a restructuring initiative that will improve proficiencies, while enhancing patient services. Such changes can be stressful for employees as jobs are reorganized, with some shifted from Intermountain to a partner company. A few employees have lost jobs. We’re doing our best to treat everyone fairly and help those affected with needed transitions. The result will be better, more affordable care for our patients and, for our employees, fresh opportunities for career development under a new model.

We have a choice: Will Utah and Intermountain continue to lead the restructuring of health care, or will we allow ourselves to be marginalized, to the detriment of patients and others we serve? We believe Utah can learn from the innovations underway in the nation and world — and that we also have much to teach. Our caregivers are needed to take health care to higher levels while ensuring all Utahns benefit from the innovations and opportunities that are emerging.

As trustees of Intermountain, we believe we have a duty to embrace and lead this health care transformation. And we are.