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Lessons on Reinvention From HFMA ANI in Las Vegas

By Dan Ward

With HIMSS having been in Las Vegas only four months prior, many HFMA attendees could be forgiven for believing it was déjà vu all over again. But far from being a mere reboot, HFMA’s ANI represented a timeless Las Vegas theme: reinvention.

Recent rebranding and renaming initiatives, for example, solidified new identities through their presence at the conference. Beyond this straightforward form of reinvention at ANI, there was a clear trend that speaks directly to a shifting health care landscape, namely: vendors moving firmly beyond traditional core competencies and into aspects of health care financial management previously only orbiting their foundational identity.

This specific form of reinvention was evident throughout the conference—within the booths, in the sessions, and throughout the halls and hotel lobbies.

Naturally the question is, why now? Why are so many organizations traditionally associated with a specific and sometimes narrow aspect of our industry investing significant time and resources in this type of reinvention?

While it could be cynically argued that it’s nothing more than a logical step in the pursuit of increased revenue, the truth is, motivation has always been present. It’s only recently that we’ve seen such movements becoming not only remarkably frequent, but also definitively pronounced. So it’s perhaps more sensible to look to the most well-managed health systems dotting our landscape and assess what their movements might be telling us about this trend. In doing so, a clear theme emerges: Health systems both large and small are moving towards what could be termed vendor consolidation. Rather than manage 30 to 50 distinct vendors (all among the best at what they do in some facet of the revenue cycle or health care financial management), these health systems are showing preferences for dramatically few vendors that are still able to provide excellent services and technologies across the spectrum of their needs.

Given that Las Vegas is a city that knows a thing or two about reinvention, let’s explore three intelligent considerations organizations should bear in mind as they recast identities—using Las Vegas a backdrop. For all the ways that Las Vegas reinvents and reimagines itself, it succeeds in doing so precisely because of the following:

Core Competencies as the Foundation
From Hunter S. Thompson to The Hangover and everything in between, Las Vegas has always been about escapism—and about novel experiences that illuminate a greater truth or new way of looking at things. Whether gambling, fine dining, shopping, or taking in a show, the city’s core competency is in many ways how it allows for some form of escape—and that forms the foundation of their offerings.

Similarly, organizations seeking to expand their brand and identity within the health care space would be wise to use the core competency that has underpinned their success to date. By way of example, a firm having found its success in rapid and accurate consolidation of revenue cycle data should probably not seek to expand via a service offering some unrelated aspect of the revenue cycle. Likewise, an organization providing interim staffing in the finance space would be ill advised to begin developing a technology meant to assist interventional radiologists specifically.

These are obviously extreme and unlikely examples intended to illustrate a point, but in the rush to expand and reinvent, it’s easy to neglect core competencies as you dream of something bigger—and thus, it’s worth being mindful of this pitfall. Understanding what you do best, and what’s truly at the core of your organization, enables mindful reinvention—the dreams that are most easily realized are those that are grounded in reality.

Sensible and Incremental Reinvention
One need not look further than Brad Pitt and George Clooney for a cautionary tale of Las Vegas reinvention. The 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven (itself a reinvention of the 1960 Rat Pack original) was a financial and critical success. Set in Las Vegas, its success led to an inevitable sequel in 2004, inexplicably set in Europe. In this instance, unbridled enthusiasm pushed the envelope too far in terms of reinvention—with predictable results, including the return of the franchise to Las Vegas for Ocean’s Thirteen in 2007.

Organizations in the health care space are no less susceptible to the same sort of ill-fated enthusiasm that can lead to such an unfavorable overreach. Yes, the market is clamoring for vendors to “do more” and provide increasingly broad technologies and services without sacrificing depth … but progress towards these provisions must be sensible and incremental. An organization providing training for coders that subsequently expands into clinical documentation improvement offerings makes sense; a chargemaster consulting firm suddenly providing a population-health offering does not.

Reinvention to Meet Market Needs
Throughout its models of reinvention, Las Vegas has been remarkably consistent in the sense that its reinventions meet explicit market needs. Further, whether it was becoming more family friendly or perfecting the art of the buffet, these reinventions rarely miss the mark. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a “Disney Vegas” level miss—the city does its research and methodically addresses needs based upon objective data.

Those of us in the business of providing technologies and services to US health systems would be wise to follow suit. When, for example, the market dictates that it has an appetite for advanced analytics, organizations must clearly define what those advanced analytics entail, and articulate how they properly address the need. In the same vein, when the market’s desire for system integration is voiced, organizations must discern what is intended by the request for such integration and provide relevant solutions. Reinvention simply for reinvention’s sake is a fool’s errand—the time and resources required for reinvention should be applied only when the strategic roadmap outlining the reinvention defines both the purpose and the method of reinvention. Core competencies—and core mission—must dictate the roadmap if the journey is to lead anywhere meaningful.

Over the din of the casinos and through the glare of the neon lights, Las Vegas provides innumerable lessons on reinvention. As many of us in the health care industry descended upon the city for the second time in four months, we saw firsthand the manner in which our space is reinventing. With any luck, we listened to what the city had to say—and are moving forward accordingly.

— Dan Ward is ZirMed’s vice president of strategy.