Campus News

August 2, 2010

Report From: Health Sciences

Academic health centers need to lead

Fred Sanfilippo is executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and chairman of Emory Healthcare.

Bob Dylan was right: “The times, they are a’changing.” Nowhere is that more true than for academic health centers, where a variety of financial, societal, political and demographic changes are increasingly requiring us to rethink the way we organize to achieve our lifesaving missions.

Among the new realities that are converging upon academic health centers are a struggling global economy; an aging Baby Boomer population that will soon flood our health care systems; a workforce shortage as health care professionals from this same generation retire; an increasing number of physicians leaving private practice; and, of course, the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The changing environment, and how academic health centers should lead the response to it, was the subject of the 2010 meeting of the Blue Ridge Academic Health Group (BRAHG). Sponsored and co-led by Emory, BRAHG is composed of academic health center leaders from across the nation. The group studies and makes recommendations to improve health and health care through sound research — both basic and applied — and health professional education, in order to help academic health centers create greater value for society.

While the nation’s academic health centers have been through many periods of change over the past few decades, it is the unanimous consensus of BRAHG members that the current environment is truly different and unlike anything we have experienced in decades. The report based on our recent meeting will be released in the coming weeks, and includes recommendations for adapting to the changing environment:

• New leadership and management models: Academic health center leaders will need to eliminate the silo mentality in favor of enterprise thinking and accountability. Building strong teams and strategically aligning resources will be crucial to success.

• Integration/alignment: We will need to align the entire academic health center — across academic and clinical units — both functionally and structurally.

• Education: We must innovate new models of education and train health professionals to work in IT-enabled settings and in coordinated inter-professional teams.

• Clinical delivery innovation: Health services research will be important in the new environment. We must innovate new models of care utilizing a broad range of health professions to improve the quality and value of the services we provide. 

• Treatment strategies: We must continue to develop new treatment strategies that take into account quality, cost and access, and we must ensure that we have the infrastructure, especially IT, to support such strategies.

• Partnerships: We must continue to collaborate with our partners within the public and private sectors to achieve the greatest common good.

The U.S. economy, health reform and sweeping population changes make this a unique period of both great challenge and great opportunity.  It is imperative that academic health centers like the Woodruff Health Sciences Center do more than just passively adapt or react to these new realities. BRAHG’s recommendations this year are complex and won’t be easy to achieve, but they are critical if academic health centers — including WHSC — are to meet our obligation and vision to develop proactive, effective, innovative approaches to transforming health and healing… together.

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