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Healthcare gets organized

Health professionals and researchers often emphasize the importance of what is known as healthcare’s “triple aim:” enhancing patient care, improving population health, and reducing costs. To ensure the success of healthcare reforms that target these goals—whether they are specific to a single hospital or as sweeping as President Obama’s Affordable Care Act—healthcare systems and practices must be organized and managed efficiently and effectively.

To that end, Northeastern convened an interdisciplinary group of 60 experts nationwide from the healthcare industry and academia for the 15th annual Organization Theory in Health Care Association conference on May 29-30. At the two-day meeting, hosted by Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, participants discussed recent research findings and methodological breakthroughs in healthcare organization and management science. Associate professor Timothy Hoff and professor Gary Young co-organized the conference, which was presented in conjunction with the Northeastern University Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Research.

In opening remarks, Hoff identified several recent instances of health system reform that would benefit from the work of organizational researchers such as improving the functioning of important mechanisms for insurance purchasing such as HealthCare.gov, examining how best to implement new payment systems within hospitals and physician practices, and how to better secure and safely share patients’ electronic health records throughout the system.

“These are all current research areas that we can and should take the lead on as organizational and implementation experts,” Hoff said.

The conference dovetails with Northeastern’s commitment to pursuing use-inspired research in health, one of the university’s three core research themes. The other two are security and sustainability. The conference, in part, served to advance the university’s burgeoning reputation in the healthcare arena.

Research paper presentations at the conference focused a range of topics, including the growing number of accountable care organizations across the U.S., the increasing reliance on health information technology to deliver care, and the organizational changes occurring in U.S. hospitals that may yield the greatest efficiencies over time.

The conference also featured keynote addresses from several of the most nationally accomplished health organization scholars and provided an opportunity for some of the nation’s top health services researchers to network, transfer knowledge, and brainstorm around key system problems that must be solved moving forward.

Hoff, an associate professor of management and organizational development, healthcare systems, and health policy at Northeastern, gives introductory remarks at the conference. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Timothy Hoff, an associate professor of management and organizational development, healthcare systems, and health policy at Northeastern, gives introductory remarks at the conference. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Much of the conversation on the second day of the conference focused on accountable care organizations, or ACOs, which are groups of doctors, healthcare providers, and hospitals that come together to share financial risk in taking care of patients.

During a panel discussion of health industry executives, participants shed light on research areas that could lead to improved healthcare organization and management in this space. Christina Severin, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization, an ACO in Massachusetts, said it would be beneficial to see more research that explores the barriers to patients’ acceptance of ACOs and in sharing their personal health information throughout the system. Part of the conversation, she said, is thinking about healthcare as a shared resource.

For his part, George Moran, an executive professor in Northeastern’s High Tech MBA Program, pointed to the value of research that helps healthcare systems customize and better understand how to create authentic patient experiences. He noted that the nation’s healthcare system is too often focused on what is being done to the patient rather than for the patient.

Moran also cited the value of applying supply chain management research to healthcare systems, a strategy aimed at realizing the full scope of a patient’s healthcare beyond the physician, including long-term care, rehabilitation, telemonitoring, and other health services. “There has to be an understanding of the continuum of care for that patient,” said Moran, noting that more comprehensive analytical data can identify best practices for an individual patient and group of patients within a specific population.