“Platforming” healthcare: A conversation with Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips

Are healthcare professionals and organizations actually solving the problems they’re paid to solve? Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, executive vice president and chief clinical officer for Providence Health and Services, doesn’t think so — and she shared big ideas on how to change that from the MATTER stage.

Amy observed that the healthcare industry has become “flabby,” with health systems so preoccupied with owning and managing unnecessary assets that they can lose sight of what’s important: taking care of patients. She suggested that in order to cut the flab, the industry needs to follow in the footsteps of platform businesses like Amazon, Microsoft and Marriott.

Amy described platform businesses as those that serve as foundational pieces that connect vendors and customers seamlessly without owning every asset. Amazon is one of the largest online stores, yet it owns only a fraction of what it sells. Marriott is a leading hospitality company, yet it owns only a few of the thousands of hotels it manages. These companies have each achieved tremendous success, not by owning hard assets but rather by focusing on their respective strengths to deliver real value. According to Amy, it’s time for the healthcare industry to mimic this model so that healthcare professionals can finally focus on delivering health.

Below are some of the highlights from Amy’s talk.

Health systems own too many hard assets.

“It turns out we own and manage a really complex real estate portfolio. We spend a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money. And in fact, in our company, we have this giant sucking sound with acute care hospitals…virtually every dime of capital that we can come up with, our hospitals would take it all up given the opportunity because bricks and mortar cost a lot of money. We also build and manage incredibly complex IT systems. The EMR is one piece of it but then there’s the PACS unit and there’s the costing unit and then there’s the billing and the security system and email for intercompany communications. So we have this entire vertical integration of this incredibly complex web of things that aren’t the things that people pay us to do.

“Rather than owning all the hard assets, rather than being the ones who build complex IT systems, rather than being the ones who are vertically up and down this entire chain, how do we start freeing up capital to invest and build the health system that we need for the future?”

What the healthcare industry can learn from Microsoft.

“Microsoft outsources their IT. They consider it a commodity — that running an IT backbone for a company is a commodity business and they want to spend their energy focusing on their differentiating factors, which are really the knowledge generation, the services businesses, Windows 365 and cloud computing. Just running the IT backend, an ERP program and an email system and your billing and collections, they outsource that. So I think it’s actually really interesting when you start thinking about the possibilities of changing what we should be doing and what we actually do.”

We’ve made it difficult to practice healthcare the right way.

“I see two customers in healthcare. There’s the patient-family customer, but there’s also the workforce customer. And we have made it so incredibly hard to practice medicine or practice nursing or to be a pharmacist because [the workforce customers] are more focused on the clicks and the documentation than they are on the face-to-face work with the patient. If I make a clinician work outside of their workflow, if I make it harder for them hone their craft, it’s not going to fly… We can’t ask our doctors to do more and, in fact, I am actively seeking ways to make it easier [for the workforce customer] to practice their clinical field of choice.”

Keeping narrative in healthcare.

“You can be a doctor, you can be a nurse, or you can be a healer. Every society on the planet has had healers… If you try to distill a human being into a series of checkboxes, you don’t know the person, you know the checkboxes. So you don’t know what they’re missing on the spiritual or the social or the economic levels. All you know is the physical level — and people are way more than the total of a physical checklist. We need to actually understand mind, body and spirit to understand health, and that is the frightening part that we distill away when we try to make us all ones and zeroes and sets of numbers.”

Want to hear from more healthcare innovators like Amy? Attend a MATTER event. Sean Nolan joins us at our next Tales from the Trenches™ on Jan 30.