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5 Essential Principles of Alignment for Health Care Organizations

Published on 8/14/2017

There's a lot of talk today about what it means to be an agile organization, but agility is just one piece of a much larger pie especially when it comes to the health care industry. Ours is an especially complex world where it's not just a business that is at stake, but the lives of the patients and populations that health care organizations serve.

Even the most agile health care providers aren't guaranteed success without alignment. When I think about the ways health IT (HIT) providers and health care providers can achieve alignment, it's about more than just agreeing on a strategy and selecting solutions. Organizations that want to work together need to move beyond a transactional environment into something that aligns with long-term value creation for both parties.

Ultimately, strategic alignment is about forging a path toward a business partnership, where everyone involved shares the same principles. Here are the five principles of alignment that health care organizations need to create successful partnerships:

Principle #1: We agree on the state of the health care industry.

The first principle might just be the simplest. When two businesses get together, each has to ask: Do we fundamentally see our industry evolving in similar ways?

In today's health care industry, that question expands a little: Do you see an acceleration toward value-based purchasing, or an industry that will continue to be dominated by fee-for-service for years to come?

The movement toward improving health for the entire community, value-based purchasing and major improvements in efficiency are all marks of a thematic shift in our industry. Each organization might have a different take on how they see those trends playing out, but they must be fundamentally aligned and in agreement on the overall path forward for the industry. It comes down to sharing a vision. At the end of the day, if one organization thinks the industry is going right and the other thinks it's going to veer left, then the partnership is in trouble before it's even off the ground.

Principle #2: We understand the role of IT in transforming health care.

If we both agree that the health care industry is going to evolve in certain ways, then the next principle of alignment seeks to answer the question: What role will HIT will play in the transformation of the industry?

Health care is fundamentally an information-centric industry. Our clinicians, technologists, administrators and patients create, move, analyze and present information at every step in the care process.

To effectively manage that information flow and to fully realize the potential of the digital record, we must agree that HIT is the enabling platform to power strategies going forward. We should also acknowledge that while HIT not only supports organizational strategies, it is a core strategy in and of itself.

To channel a bit of my Kansas home: IT is the not only the bricks it represents the yellow brick road. This means that for HIT providers and health care organizations to do great work together, it takes aligning around the belief that HIT creates the organizational levers for transformation.

Principle #3: We both bring to the table an ability to invest and meet our commitments.

The third principle of alignment boils down to making sure both organizations have the ability and the intention to do everything each says they're going to do.

Organizations are well intentioned and have high hopes for the success of a business relationship. Yet, to enter a strategic alignment with one another, each must move beyond pronouncements to measurable resource commitments of capital, labor and leadership oversight. For HIT providers, that means having market-ready solutions and providing the right resources to ensure that the health care provider can properly implement and use the technology while establishing proper governance. For health care providers, that means committing staff and leadership at all levels while maintaining the infrastructure and currency of the platforms.

HIT projects are often compared to major building projects with more than 30-year useful lives. While there are certainly parallels, the HIT systems will be reinvented time and time again to maintain pace with changes in technology, medicine and consumer expectations.

Principle #4: We like each other.

When I tell people about the fourth principle — that organizations better like each other if they're going to work together I tend to get a few laughs.

"Like" seems pedestrian and ordinary. Of course: Organizations don't like each other, people do. If two organizations are committing to fundamental change over time and the leaders of those organizations don't enjoy being together, the partnership isn't going to work in the long term. The health care industry can be an incredibly challenging work environment, and if there's a seed of dislike or distrust between teams, that's only going to make the work harder if not impossible.

Principle #5: We are prepared for a balance of successes and failures.

I like to call the fifth principle Mutually Assured Destruction. For some folks with a Cold War heritage, that principle is very familiar. While peace (or, in this case, relationship success) is desirable, war and total destruction (or, here, project failure) must never happen. The costs of failure must accrue equally to both parties so that a desire for success is balanced with a must not fail. We tend to craft and evaluate partnerships around the good things that each organization plans and hopes for, but we also need to account for what happens if things go awry.

So how do we build a balance of success and failure into this relationship? The key is making sure that the proportions of each are at scale for both parties. Success means that both organizations win equally; failure means that the pain is shared equally.

Partnerships have charters and agreements. There's the adage from Robert Frost: "Good fences make good neighbors." In partnerships, good contacts make for great partners.

Good partnerships happen when two organizations stay together because they can accomplish great things and also because breaking apart would have negative consequences for both parties. This takes leadership at each organization saying: We need each other to be successful, and really meaning it. And it means that when we succeed, we succeed together and we celebrate together.

Cerner ITWorks brings the best solutions, services and people in alignment with your organization's needs, goals and future. With these elements working together in concert, we can solve your toughest challenges and put your organization on an accelerated path to transformation. Learn more here.