Climate change will affect hospitals?


study published this week in science journal Climatic Change models how hospital admissions for things like diabetes, kidney stones, and suicide attempts will rise along with the temperature, something that’s expected to happen as global warming increases the average yearly temperature and causes temperature swings. Those most at risk for climate-related hospital admittance (and resulting deaths) are the very young and the elderly, whose regulatory systems are less able to adapt to high temperatures.

Grist via PSFK

Facebook’s hacking culture is ultra neat. Its Hackathons are responsible for some of the most used features on the platform. The video offers a brief look into the experience. This Fast Company article reports that Facebook, on the success of the 24-hour Hackathons, has started month-long Hack-a-months.

This is a good quote from engineering manager David Ferguson: “You build things on top of social, you don’t try to build social into products.”

What is Mayo Clinic doing?

One of the more fascinating businessy elements of today’s modern healthcare landscape is the complete non-existence of a coast-to-coast healthcare brand with locations in numerous cities. Some of the for-profit chains come close in terms of physical locations, but their brands are (usually) missing from the localized health system name.

The most recognizable not-for-profits (Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, etc.) have nationwide notoriety, but only regional outposts in strategic markets. Recent news indicates that Mayo Clinic has set out to change that.


In a quiet, but possibly market-changing move, the Mayo Clinic affiliated itself with Altru Health System of Grand Forks, N.D., last Thursday. It’s not the affiliation itself that’s important, however. In fact, the partnership is relatively informal, allowing the two health organizations to share resources without combining assets or merging.

What is important is the idea behind it, says the Rochester Post-Bulletin. And that idea is a big one: The Mayo Clinic sharing its hefty brand with health facilities around the U.S. that it doesn’t own.

It’s an interesting strategy. Affiliations abound, though most occur in a strategic product line, not an entire health system. Undoubtedly what makes Mayo Clinic special is that there is only one Mayo Clinic. Proven or not, Mayo Clinic (and the handful of like national healthcare brands) represents the best of American healthcare. Part of what makes it a great brand is its scarcity. Not everyone has access to healthcare services from Mayo Clinic.

That scarcity is real. Any health system has access to the same technology and same treatments (more or less) as Mayo Clinic. What the regional health systems don’t have equal access to is physician talent. Mayo Clinic, I assume, would echo that sentiment. There are great physicians everywhere. But to ignore the “we have the best doctors” rhetoric is to undervalue the notion of the physician’s role in delivering treatment. This is America and our culture dictates that we must ascribe “the best” to someone–and it improves Mayo’s brand standing to have as many “the bests” as possible.

That is changing as we enter an era of standardized treatment plans and technology improves access to the best specialists. The reality is that we don’t know if Mayo Clinic truly is the best–the industry does not agree on how best to measure such a notion, let alone acknowledge the incomplete data available to corroborate such promises.

Currently, status of “the best” is industry-fueled perception. In the world of branding, that’s a strong position to be in. And that’s where this could be damaging to the Mayo Clinic brand. Putting the Mayo Clinic name on hospitals across the country now means Mayo Clinic is connected to the success, or failure, of healthcare delivered in those institutions. There is a lot that Mayo Clinic does well that can be replicated nationwide–strong branding is one of them, care protocols, guidelines and other elements of healthcare delivery are others–but attracting/employing “the best” physicians proves more difficult (not for the local physicians who have (fortuitously?) come across a new partner, but for the Mayo Clinic brand those physicians extend, or not).

This move isn’t the wrong move. It’s just perilous if not executed properly (Over-Branding Kills Profits And Scares Off Consumers). McDonald’s has executed well. But for every McDonald’s success story there is one like Burger King–a chain that has had successes but regularly struggles in its execution. I can’t tell you the last time I was in a bad McDonald’s, I can think of a BK example. A bad Mayo Clinic example would be bad for the stature of Mayo Clinic.

One of the other interesting businessy elements of healthcare is its delayed adoption of business trends–national growth and branding have been around for a while. True to form, healthcare seems to be getting around to them only recently. An emerging business trend is the importance of local. There is no other industry more local than healthcare. It seems an interesting time for healthcare to buck that trend.

57% said that a social media connection with a hospital was likely to have a strong impact on their decision to seek treatment at that hospital.

That from a YouGov survey. I’m a big fan of hospitals who do social media right–but count me skeptical on this one. Social media is not mature enough to have that sort of impact. Some day, yes. Today, unlikely.

The future of healthcare is (happening) in Pittsburgh

It’s official: the cash-strapped West Penn Allegheny Health System is partnering with Highmark, a non-profit insurer in Pennsylvania. The investment is $475 million of much needed liquidity. Put your remembering glasses on, WPAHS is what emerged after the mega-failure of Allegheny Health Education and Research Foundation. WPAHS has been in trouble ever since that occurred, really.

A competitive consequence of that bankruptcy saw the rise of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. UPMC strategy has dominated Pittsburgh healthcare ever since.

What makes this interesting locally is the contract negotiations (or not) currently taking place between UPMC and Highmark. According to Post-Gazette article, UPMC is “saying that it cannot, and will not, sign a deal with an insurer that is now partner with a UPMC competitor.”

But what we could see emerge from the Steel City as a result of this move may be an indication of the future of healthcare. Much of what makes healthcare complicated is a result of the fractions between payer and provider. This isn’t the first integrated health system in the country, in fact UPMC has a sizable health plan itself. But it is the first time (I think) an insurance provider has purchased (officials aren’t terming the partnership a purchase, but that is essentially what it is) a health system.

Paul Levy explains:

As a friend of mine says, this is a game-changer. Think about it this way. The most successful systems in the country today have common ownership of an insurance company and a health system, especially where they can combine to dominate a geographic area. This works because they have a common bottom line and can organize their business to take advantage of competencies in the respective parts.

There you go, it’s a game changer.

But he adds, “I’m thinking that the folks at UPMC have just woken up to their worst nightmare.”

I disagree. From a competitive standpoint this is far from ideal for UPMC. But that health system grew to dominate Pittsburgh healthcare through shrewd strategy execution. The strategic decisions UPMC has made have been controversial as noted in the P-G article:

Officials from Highmark and WPAHS organizations (which are both non-profits) also tried to draw a distinction between WPAHS and UPMC, saying UPMC is not behaving like a not-for-profit community asset in the way that it tries to “maximize revenue” and put WPAHS out of business

It is not an understatement to say that UPMC has played an extremely significant role in the re-emergence of Pittsburgh as a desirable place to live after the collapse of U.S. steel. The city has depended upon healthcare and education to redefine itself. I expect UPMC to react in the swift and decisive manor which has made them successful.

While the partnership is an extremely interesting move, what will be fascinating is the response it elicits from UPMC. And I suppose WPAHS response to that response. And the competitive circle that ensues.