Hospital and health system leaders are truly at their most effective when they collaborate to improve care—be it with providers, payers, employers, employees or community partners.

I bolded “with” on purpose. According to a panelist at last month’s AHA Executive Forum on disruption, innovation and value, “with” is the most important word when working to promote community health. While hospital and health system leaders have made great contributions to and for their communities, Rick Foster, M.D., executive director of the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, says working with other community stakeholders results in a fundamentally different mindset and a better outcome.

Foster shared this example: A hospital was initially considering building an outpatient care facility but first sought input from community residents, including those who were most affected by their environment. Hospital leaders learned that the community actually needed more green space instead of more clinical space. As a result of working with the community to bring stakeholders into the decision-making process early on, the hospital saved time and money and fundamentally improved the health of their community.

Foster participated in a session on community partnerships presented at AHA’s The Value Initiative forum in Atlanta. Other panelists included Beneta D. Burt, president and CEO, Mississippi Urban League, and Maria F. Pinzon, executive director, Hispanic Services Council, who discussed the ways they’ve worked with hospitals and health systems to improve outcomes and promote health equity in their communities. You can listen to a podcast from the session here.

Speakers mentioned that working with communities also means gradually fostering trust. Showing up once to a community needs assessment meeting won’t cut it, they said. Leaders must continue to show up, again and again, and engage with community partners about collectively improving health. 

Working with communities also means thinking critically about social needs. For example: Burt and Pinzon shared that resolving food insecurity often can be more complex than simply providing food – some individuals also may need nutritional education. 

In addition to community collaboration, speakers at the forum said that hospitals and health systems are engaging in a variety of partnerships to improve value.

For example, WellStar Health System lowers costs and improves utilization by working directly with physician leaders to examine surgical costs, analyze clinical decisions and even compare best practices within a pool of more than 3,300 physicians. 

And Grady Health identifies its high-risk patients, such as those who have chronic heart failure and diabetes, with the help of artificial intelligence company Jvion. Armed with analytics, Grady staff tailor care to these patients and help them transition through the care continuum. Grady also addresses patients’ social needs by helping patients pay their utility bills, find housing and get needed transportation. 

These are just a handful of examples of how hospitals and health systems are on the right track to partnering with the right stakeholders to collectively boost health care value. 

Are you partnering with other stakeholders to enhance value? If so, I want to hear about it. Contact me at pbathija@aha.org. Or, better yet, join us in Boston on July 11 for our next AHA Executive Forum, hosted by The Value Initiative. We have an exciting lineup of speakers at this complimentary, AHA members-only event that will spark discussion around how hospitals can improve value through consumer-driven innovation and collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders. View the full agenda and register here.

Priya Bathija is vice president of AHA’s The Value Initiative.

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