The US strategy that could fix UK healthcare

By: Ben Gowland CEO NHS Nene Clinical Commissioning Group @ccginsider
Published: Monday, October 13, 2014 - 10:12 GMT Jump to Comments

We need to engage patients, public and staff in a conversation about the need for change so that change can happen and the service we all aspire to can become a reality.

Michael Porter and Thomas Lee published ‘The Strategy that will Fix Health Care’ in the Harvard Business Review last year. Recording the latest RealityBites podcast (no 8) with Joe Tibbetts we found ourselves revisiting what they wrote. It seemed a good idea to spend some column time in the same arena.

‘The Strategy that will Fix Health Care’ starts with the premise that there needs to be a ‘transformation to value-based health care’.  This is essentially a shift in the focus of health care delivery from value and profitability of services provided to the patient outcomes that are achieved

This transformation, it claims, is on its way. "There is no longer any doubt about how to increase the value of health care.  The question is, which organisations will lead the way and how quickly can others follow."

Some in the NHS understand this.  The development of the Outcomes Framework is a good example of a simplistic attempt to shift the system with one golden bullet.  Many, however, do not, hence the reason the Outcomes Framework has been largely ignored despite its stated importance.  What is clear is that achieving this shift is far easier to say than to do in practice.So how will this be achieved? 

Step one, according to Porter and Lee is to define a proper goal for the health care system.  And that goal would be "To improve outcomes for patients", not increase volumes or improve margins, just improve outcomes for patients. 

We say we have set this goal in the NHS but of course we have not.  Our goals are breaking even, achieving the 4 hour and 18 week targets, and becoming Foundation Trusts. 

The strategic agenda for moving to a high value health care delivery system has 6 components, which are interdependent and mutually enforcing.

The first is to organise the delivery chain into what the authors describe as Integrated Practice Units.  These units are responsible for the full care pathway of a patient’s condition, not just the individual pieces of it.  This will mean clinicians and managers working together to provide every aspect of care for a given disease, such as diabetes.

The second is to measure outcomes and costs for every patient.  The outcomes must be those that actually matter to the patient, and be evaluated by condition (such as diabetes) not by specialty such as podiatry or intervention (eye examination).

The third is to move to bundled payments for care cycles.  Specifically this is neither global capitation nor fee for service (the mechanisms generally used in the NHS) as neither reward improvements in outcomes for patients. 

This would mean a full care cycle for an acute condition; a year of care for a long term condition; or primary and preventive care for a specific population e.g. children.

The fourth component is to integrate care delivery systems.  I like the authors’ description of integrated care, as it has a substance commonly lacking in NHS expositions of the topic.  They comment that most multi-site organisations are not true integrated delivery systems but loose confederations of largely stand-alone services that often duplicate each other. 

True integration, say Porter and Lee requires 4 choices:

I. Define the scope of the services, i.e. only deliver those services where you can genuinely deliver high value for patients

II. Concentrate volume in fewer locations, because volumes matter for outcomes

III.Choose the right location for each service line, i.e. deliver the routine and less complex out of hospital

IV.Integrate care for patients across locations.  The integrated practice units should operate across locations if necessary.

The authors note that the politics of this is daunting, as many of us in the NHS have already discovered!

The fifth is to expand geographic reach.  The time has come to end the delivery of health care as a local model only, and allow superior providers for particular conditions to be able to serve a wider population.  This would either be a hub and spoke model, where a provider creates satellite facilities for the relevant integrated practice unit and fully employs, trains and rotates staff through the parent organisation.  Or, an alternative, a clinical affiliation where the integrated practice unit provider partners with community or local providers and uses their facilities and staff, but applies its own successful approach.

The sixth and final component is to build an enabling IT platform that would be centred on patients, use common data definitions, make medical records accessible to all, have templates and systems for each condition, and where information would be easy to extract.

While much of what Porter and Lee suggest is both complex and daunting, there is nothing that I would obviously disagree with.  Equally there is very little that could be easily done tomorrow.

As leaders in and of the NHS our starting point has to be an acceptance of the basic premise of the article, that the focus of health care delivery must become solely about improving outcomes for patients.  We need to be less protective of the NHS that we have today, and engage our patients, our public and our staff in a conversation about the need for change so that we can serve them better, and so that some of the changes suggested can move from the theoretical and aspirational, to being realistic and implementable.

‘The Strategy that will Fix Health Care’ Porter and Lee

RealityBites - The National Healthcare Conversation, podcast No.8  Focusing on patient outcomes, a healthcare strategy will be available to listen or download through the Information Daily Tuesday 13 October.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.



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