Ethics

Building Courage

Courage by definition is the willingness to do something that frightens oneself. 

In a business context it usually requires people to do the right thing rather than acting in their own financial interest. Doing the right thing is frightening for those with a lot to loose.

Ethics and compliance with regulations is comparably a low bar for businesses but still a challenging hurtle for companies focused on maximizing returns to shareholders.

Tenet Health

Tenet is a good example of a leading edge company focused on maximizing shareholder returns that has experienced compliance issues.

The company has made early investments in technologies that help them reduce operating costs, streamline revenue cycle processes and accurately report revenue related numbers.

The problem is that some operators put the financial focus ahead of the company’s purpose of providing high quality care to the patients in the communities that they serve. In some instances, patients paid a very high price. 

If you need details, google Tenet’s issues in Redding, California. Nurses at the facility eventually “blew the whistle” but given the company’s focus on financial operations, others likely new something was wrong but they didn’t have the courage to question the physician or Administrators involved.

Cases like Redding create trust issues with payers, partners, employees and healthcare consumers. The company pays a hefty price for years even when corrective actions are taken.

The question that remains to be answered, is it worth it?

CVS

Did you know that CVS stopped selling tobacco products in all of the company’s pharmacies in 2014? Despite the loss of $2 Billion in annual sales, executives decided it was the right thing to do. 

The company couldn’t be an authentic partner to healthcare providers when they were selling a product known to create significant health issues. They put their mission ahead of their financial gain.

Reportedly, the company didn’t suffer because they were able to replace the revenue stream with new and enhanced services that better aligned with their core mission. Apparently, people in communities with a CVS have changed their tobacco consumption habits as a result – not their purchasing habits.

Other pharmacy companies have continued selling tobacco and claiming they are complying with all laws and regulations. Those companies continue to profit from the sale of tobacco and people continue to smoke.

Is compliance enough when we already know the negative impact to the consumer?

Values

Your answers will reflect your belief and values. For companies, the answers need to reflect how they operate in order to operate authentically and to attract the employees, partners and others that align with their beliefs and values.

Healthier Hospitals

A framework for Healthcare Finance 2.0 already exists.

Similar to leading edge retailers, hospital systems participating in the Healthier Hospital Initiative are working to make their organizations healthier and more environmentally friendly. 

I discovered the initiative while researching organizational values of leading healthcare organizations and noticed the reference on the old values page for Tenet Health. Unfortunately, the page is no longer available.

Tenet Health

Tenet’s new values are reflected by the acronym CARE which may make them easier for people to remember. However, what truly makes values memorable is whether they are reinforced every day by the way people work and conduct themselves on the job and in the community.

Change of Values

I started my healthcare career with Tenet Health and the values reflected now are fairly consistent with how the company operated back then with one important exception.

Innovation is no longer on the values list and there is no reference to the Healthier Hospital Initiative in the description. For me and likely many Tenet employees, that change is a big deal.

Innovation

With the number of innovation titles used now within the healthcare industry, you might think innovation has become more of a platitude than a meaningful organizational value. However, the Tenet that I knew was a leader in information technology. It’s how the company was able to develop Broadlane and Conifer and to provide services to other healthcare systems. 

Now it’s something that I have to question because there has also been a change in management. Do they have the internal courage to make the early investments in technology or not?

Healthier Hospital Initiative

The Healthier Hospital Initiative is what hospital systems need to challenge current financial models. When I posed related questions in my Healthcare Finance 2.0 post, some industry leaders dismissed the idea as something hospital providers couldn’t afford to do.

The reaction is to be expected during the innovation process. However, it’s also why we need leading edge organizations that can make those early investments to show other systems that it’s possible and to support others in the transition to greener, healthier organizations.

Risk Is Rewarded

Companies that take risks attract the people with the courage and drive needed to lead meaningful change. The value structure needs to support the courageous few for the organization to realize the benefits of innovation.

Culture

According to the book the Trillion Dollar Coach, good cultures need a healthy blend of ethics, values and trust. 

Tenet should have focused on trust because the company already has a strong framework for ethics and values. Plus trust is essential for moving healthcare organizations forward into value based care arrangements, retaining good employees and maximizing profits.

Courage

I’m reading a new book on developing the organizational courage needed to facilitate innovation and change. I’ll have more thoughts on that for you next week.

Operating in the Grey

Morally wrong but not illegal. That’s the fine line that many companies walk.

There is a really good documentary called the Drug Short that uses the story of Valeant to explain the problem with drug pricing in the US.

Valeant operated more like a hedge fund than a pharmaceutical company. The model was pretty simple:

1/ Buy companies that have a drug with a monopoly.

2/ Strip out the R+D so that the typical 18% spent on R+D goes to the bottom line.

3/ Raise prices on existing drugs.

The problem is that many of the drugs were life sustaining drugs for people in middle America who couldn’t afford to pay for them. 

So the company took extraordinary measures to bilk insurance companies into paying for the prescriptions. To keep patients quiet about the issue, they provided just enough financial support to them through their advocacy efforts.

Hillary Clinton started tweeting and talking about the issue during her campaign. Investors and board members could have looked into it and taken action, but they didn’t. They were reportedly paid large sums to look the other way. 

The returns on biotech companies now are largely due to price increases. The companies can’t afford to lower their prices and profits.  So nothing has changed.