Catherine Jacobson, FHFMA, CPA

We're living through a once-in-a-lifetime period in which profound changes are reshaping how we live, how we do business, and how we plan for the future. And these changes are certainly reshaping the healthcare industry.

We're not only dealing with the effects of an economic downturn that has exposed as a myth the notion that health care is a "recession-proof" industry. We're also preparing for potentially profound changes in the way that health care is delivered and paid for as healthcare reform progresses in Washington.

These challenges have affected every healthcare organization in our nation.

Now, more than ever, the leadership of healthcare finance professionals is critical to preserving our organizations' ability to "make it count" in the business of health care-and for the communities we serve. As government leaders, healthcare providers, advocacy groups, employers, payers, and others begin to map out strategies for healthcare reform-which Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, says in this issue of hfm "is essential to our nation's health and our economic stability"-we must help our organizations be part of this effort.

With reform looming that will change the way healthcare providers are paid, and with an economy that is shrinking revenues, healthcare finance is center stage for provider organizations, and healthcare finance executives need to play a leading role in fostering the kind of organizational change that will mean success in this environment.One way finance leaders can do that is to help their organizations set up the kinds of relationships with physicians that will create true integration-not just contractual relationships, but tight alignment of incentives and processes that will improve efficiency, coordination, and outcomes across various care settings.

Another way finance can lead in this environment is to enhance our organizations' ability to understand the true costs-direct and indirect-associated with an episode of care. This understanding of cost will allow providers to better negotiate price and payment, and to drive costs out of our operations.

Finance also needs to help our organizations use technology to access and use real-time information about finance, operations, and quality-information that will allow adjustments in resource use and process to manage wisely in a value-based-payment environment.

You can learn more about the leadership imperatives for finance in a reform environment from HFMA's new report, Healthcare Payment Reform: A Call to Action (www.hfma.org/reform). And you can stay on top of legislation emerging from Washington through HFMA's online news.

The actions I've described are not easy. They require a focus on the future when the present takes up every bit of our attention. They require building new relationships, processes, and talent at a time when resources are tight. But the status quo is not an option for healthcare finance today. As a profession, we have risen to many challenges in the past. Our energy, expertise, and dedication to make it count make me confident we will meet today's challenges as well-for the benefit of our organizations, our communities, and our nation.

Publication Date: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

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