There are more than 850 integrated health
care delivery systems in the United States today, and they face many unique
challenges and loss exposures. This article highlights some of the important
issues that must be considered in managing their risks and structuring their
Boone Willis Health Care Practice and Robin Maley Maley HealthCare Consulting
Close to 850 integrated health care delivery systems (IDSs) exist in the
United States today. Currently, most systems are considered to be in an evolving
state of integration as they attempt to provide a full continuum of services
in a user-friendly, one-stop-shopping environment that eliminates costly intermediaries,
promotes wellness, and improves health outcomes.
Markers of integration include strong physician-hospital links, coordinated
systems of care, geographic reach, quality management, contractual capabilities,
utilization controls, financial strength, organized oversight and economies
of scale. An honest evaluation of just how integrated each component of a system
is will determine the strategies necessary to contain its risks. The typically
large size of organizations, the geographical distances and structural differences
among components, and the differences in services and staff involved create
formidable challenges to those responsible for risk management.
Skeptics have questioned the value of many integration efforts. The financial
performance of hospitals affiliated with systems suggests only small gains in
many instances. Proponents believe that attention to community health needs
has improved but that new risks have been created as health care providers'
roles and degrees of authority have changed, immediacy of access to health care
has been reduced, and providers' freedom of choice has been restricted. As a
result of these events, new avenues for potential errors and litigation to occur
have emerged. Discussions surrounding the value and accountability of IDSs and
the necessity for health plan regulation overall have emerged rapidly as priority
issues on the President's current agenda. The review of the intended provisions
of the Federal Employee and Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), in regard to
states' rights to regulate the "business of insurance" and patients' rights
to sue their managed care providers, complicates risk evaluations at this time.
Medical malpractice risks, antitrust issues, negligent credentialing risks,
employment practices liabilities, shareholders derivative suits, and directors
and officers liabilities are among those areas that must all be carefully reviewed
with the disadvantage of not knowing the clear direction of the law.
From a risk management perspective, the challenge within the IDS is to institute
an integrated risk management plan. A good starting point in the risk assessment
of an IDS is to be familiar with determinants of their success. For an IDS to
be and remain successful, several actions must be taken by IDS leaders. Specifically,
they should be engaging in the following strategies.
As gaps in the potential for success are noted, measures to bolster weaknesses
can be put in place. To do this, however, it is imperative that the risk manager
is provided with the authority to effect change and that he or she is fully
supported by the board of directors, top administration, and medical leadership
of the IDS. Recognition of the risk manager's authority should be stated clearly
in a formal, written statement that supports the quality initiatives of the
organization and that is circulated throughout the IDS.
While all of the above activities are critical for the success of the IDS
and the containment of risks, those discussed in this article include the evaluation
of management strengths and weaknesses, physician support, financial integrity,
and information exchange capabilities. Following a discussion of these topics,
information will be provided regarding means to control risks via various insurance
To form and operate integrated health care delivery systems successfully
requires a great deal of commitment, leadership, and business savvy and can
pose major challenges to even the most experienced health care executives. During
IDS formation, many persons are asked to perform functions and tasks for which
they have never been previously responsible. Activities may be handled awkwardly
at first and, as a result, risks usually not present may emerge. To decrease
the risk, it is important that empowered leaders begin to focus on the system
as a whole rather than a conglomeration of independent organizations, e.g.,
physician practices, home care agencies, hospital clinics, etc. Flexibility
and the ability to respond quickly to change is important and will continue
to be so in the future as capitation and other new managed fee structures drive
executives to redesign health care delivery systems to follow industry mandates
Buy-in to compatible goals and objectives and the ability for the mission
of the organization to be carried out across all components will impact risks
related to the management of the network. A critical determinant of success
will be the ability of leadership to secure the participation of others to work
toward the benefit of the entire system.
Risk management professionals can be helpful in evaluating the strengths
and weaknesses of each network component based on the managers' credentials,
past performances, commitment, attitude, and leadership skills. Suboptimal performers
and persons uninterested in being team members can be replaced with personnel
with stronger skill sets, if it is determined that their performance is not
likely to change. From a risk management point of view, it is important to remember
that even high performers may feel threatened by uncertainty and change and
will be apt to perform at a subpar level. This reemphasizes the critical need
for open lines of communication and ample dissemination of information to place
workers at ease to the greatest degree possible in order to avoid accidents.
The extent of control the majority of physicians have had over their working
environments and their degrees of autonomy has been severely impacted since
the introduction of managed care. In prior years, doctors routinely developed
very individualistic, independent styles of practicing medicine. These practice
methods contrast significantly with those that are necessary to practice within
the health care delivery system. Conforming to new rules and working in foreign
environments are difficult adjustments for physicians to make. These changes
require them to be flexible and adopt a new outlook on the delivery of health
Evaluating the mind frames of the physicians involved in the formation of
an integrated health care delivery system is paramount to the establishment
of a strong risk management program. Angry, confused physicians burdened by
tasks they have had limited training to perform or desire to manage increases
risks. Advising key executives of the potential for risk under this scenario
falls within the realm of the risk manager's responsibility. Following the identification
of this risk should be a recommendation for physician education addressing the
advantages to them of joining forces with other network components. Advantages
physicians may benefit from include cost-effective administration, improved
access to other providers and support systems, access to a broader range of
support services, financial strength and security, increased customer satisfaction,
access to educational resources, ownership potential, increased market share,
increased access to data and information systems, group purchasing discounts,
strategic planning, and enhanced image in the community.
The historic financial experiences of each component part of the integrated
health care delivery system should be taken into consideration during the due
diligence, financial forecasting, and budgeting processes. Premiums, products,
managed care enrollments, mix of services, and provider and customer shifts
then need to be analyzed and adjusted within financial reporting systems. Ongoing
versus one-time expenditures need to be distinguished from one another and a
means for benchmarking financial performance against quality indicators established.
The risk manager should take an interactive role in identifying and analyzing
risk factors that could follow the implementation of strategic imperatives.
Unchecked, these areas of potential liability could negatively impact the bottom
Inferior, incompatible, or duplicative information systems can pose serious
risks within organizations providing health care services. The complexities
of and variations among integrated health care delivery components exacerbate
the potential for system problems, which can lead to the incomplete transmission
of critical patient information.
Analyzing information systems and their ability to reach and serve IDS components
is an overwhelming and expensive task but one that is critical for the system
to operate optimally from financial, quality, and utilization standpoints. Lack
of data is a significant obstacle to the development of a sound risk management
program. Outlined below are several of the functions that information systems
within IDSs should be designed to perform in order to yield information that
will subsequently help to preserve financial assets and promote patient and
We have reviewed some of the risk management issues facing IDSs in the new
millennium. What we will examine in this section are some of the professional
liability/errors and omissions (E&O) and risk financing issues that are important
Traditional lines of coverage that are a part of the IDS' portfolio are the
Some of the less traditional coverages include the following.
Emerging exposures raise new coverage issues. Some examples include the following.
Health care providers integrate for many reasons. Some have been mentioned
above. From the insurance and liability perspective, risk financing for these
entities has also been integrated. The motivating forces behind this integration
include the following.
There are many ways an IDS can choose to secure its liabilities as it becomes
more diverse. Most of the major health care insurers offer a comprehensive product
to IDSs. Some examples include ERC's Hercules, AIG's Med Elite and PROCAP, Zurich
Americas' Corporate Risk Solutions, and Zurich UK's All Lines Combined Aggregate.
Some of those products have been more successful than others. Commercial primary
first dollar insurance is available where IDSs do share in the risk. Other risk
financing methods include captives, risk retention groups, and self-insured
trusts. Captives and self-insured trusts appear to appeal most to IDSs. Questions
that need to be addressed when considering these options include the following.
There are other nontraditional ways of risk financing. One example would
be equity put warranty transactions. This method would be available for a publicly
traded for-profit entity. The insurer and the insured enter into a transaction
where the insured's stock and warranty value are negotiating elements.
As we move into the new millennium, IDSs are rethinking their approach to
risk, as are most other organizations in the United States. Rather than focusing
solely on hazardous forms of risk, enterprise liability seeks to address all
forms of contingencies, events, and actions that might adversely impact the
performance of the company.
Some issues to consider regarding risk financing options are the following.
A thorough evaluation or risk assessment of the IDS' exposures and emerging
liabilities should be a part of any risk management strategy. Here some of the
points that should be on an exposure review checklist.
These are a few issues associated with an integrated delivery system from
the risk management and risk financing perspective. New liabilities will continue
to evolve. Health care providers are forging ahead into a challenging year 2000
with physicians in unions, fewer dollars to work with and technological innovations
continuing to raise costs. Despite that background, many opportunities remain
to turn risk into an advantage.
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