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Learning resilience from other industries

Last week the Advisory Board Company held its second colloquium for Fellows in Washington D.C. with the topic being ‘The Health Care Ecosystem’. As just one of two vendor participants asked to join this fellowship with distinguished healthcare provider leaders, I was interested to hear the challenges and opportunities facing these organizations first hand.

A central theme last week was the concept of developing resilience for healthcare systems. The framework suggests resilience increases when healthcare systems can simultaneously exert control and adapt to external forces of public policy, economics, demographics and technology. One of the directors for the Advisory Board summed it up by saying “Our aspiration for you is to be leaders that can see up and around the bend.

What happens when industries are not resilient

To illustrate the importance of this concept the Fellowship reviewed the Harvard Business School case on U.S. Steel. In the 1970s, the U.S. steel industry faced a steep decline, forcing more than 30 companies into bankruptcy by the year 2000.

Companies grappled with competition from foreign companies and substitute materials. So called ‘mini-mills’ completely changed the landscape and cost structure for the industry. To wrap the case the facilitator read excerpts from Fortune Magazine’s ‘Autopsy’ of Bethlehem Steel where the real cause of death was leadership’s lack of understanding that they needed to adapt and change.

A comment from a Fellow brought the discussion back to the implications for healthcare:

“In health care we’re great at protecting ourselves from what’s going on in other industries…we tell ourselves that what works in other industries won’t work here or for some reason we’re different.”

Exerting control and adapting in health care

At some point, every industry faces a monumental shift that requires resilience. Rather than delineate the differences between health care and other industries, it’s time to learn from them.

What actions have other industries taken to exert control and adapt to the forces of public policy, economics, demographics and technology that CAN work in health care?

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