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Doctors and Healthcare Execs in NJ to Work on Their Leadership Skills

End-of-life care is first focus for new academy that aims to get different groups to collaborate

Doctors & Exec

Three of New Jersey’s most powerful healthcare advocacy groups — organizations that frequently find themselves on different sides of controversial policy issues — have joined forces to build leadership skills and ongoing collaboration among physicians, executives, and others in the healthcare field.

On Tuesday, the Medical Society of New Jersey, the New Jersey Hospital Association, and the New Jersey Association of Health Plans announced a partnership with Seton Hall University to create the New Jersey Healthcare Executive Leadership Academy to help experts work together to tackle crosscutting problems.

The first session, slated to start in February, will focus on ways to improve end-of-life care, which studies have found is extremely costly, not particularly effective, and frequently at odds with patient and family wishes. The first 30 participants are being chosen by organization leaders and will include key staff responsible for relevant programs.

“To improve health outcomes, physicians, payers, and hospitals must work more closely together,” said Larry Downs, the medical society’s CEO. “This program will provide participants with an opportunity to understand the unique perspective each brings to solving healthcare issues.”

The agreement builds on conversations among the group’s leaders, who started meeting several years ago to identify ways to work together to improve the state’s healthcare system, participants said. The seed was first planted at a conference sponsored by the Rippel Foundation, in Morristown, which supports projects designed to transform healthcare; it agreed to fund aspects of the academy program going forward.

The program is designed to help participants build individual skills, Downs and others explained, but also to harness their collaborative powers to identify better strategies for elder and end-of-life care. The solutions they conceive can be used to inform future policy discussions, he said, and also be applied to their ongoing work as providers, hospital executives, or insurance leaders. “We anticipate there will be tangible products coming out of this to improve our healthcare,” Downs said.

Betsy Ryan, NJHA’s president and CEO, said the program could also contribute to other collaborations among the three powerful stakeholders. “We hope this program builds lasting relationships among the participants,” she said.

While their work is closely intertwined, these groups are frequently separated by policy issues that divide healthcare providers — especially hospitals and physicians — from payers, or the insurance companies that foot the bill. And efforts to reform the state’s out-of-network medical billing requirements have further segregated these stakeholders, with the hospital association and medical society calling for different strategies to resolve disputes between providers and payers.

But representatives of each group agreed the leadership project provided a unique opportunity for them to collaborate on issues important to the state. “We were pleased to be one of the founding members of this collaborative program,” said NJHAP president Ward Sanders. “There are times when our organizations have differing points of view. This format will allow us to work together toward common goals.”

Kerry McKean Kelly, NJHA’s vice president for communications, agreed. “We are groups that don’t always see things from exactly the same perspective when it comes to policy,” she said. As the leaders talked about areas where they could collaborate effectively, “the conversation kind of gravitated toward the end-of-life issue and it was a good fit.”

Studies suggest that millions of Americans die each year in a hospital or long-term care facility, after multiple rounds of costly treatment, even when they would prefer a less invasive, less aggressive approach delivered in the comfort of their homes. The problem is particularly acute in New Jersey, which has some of the most costly care nationwide. A poll conducted last spring by Rutgers-Eagleton for the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute found six in ten residents believe it is important to outline their end of life care, but the same percentage has failed to do so in writing.

Healthcare advocates and medical providers have launched growing efforts to educate families about the importance of documenting these wishes and Downs, with MSNJ, said the academy’s collaborative approach should lead to additional options. “It’s a problem that benefits from shared leadership,” he said.

The first class in the leadership academy – comprising ten physicians, ten hospital leaders, and ten insurance experts — will gather for a retreat to kick off the five-month-long program. Participants will continue to work together through online sessions, in-person discussions and other forums that total 40 hours, after which they can receive a Certificate in Advanced Healthcare Leadership —a new designation created for the program. Each session will focus on an area on which participants can work together, Downs said.

While the first group has been recruited by the founding organizations, future potential participants can apply to participate through the medical society’s website. In addition to support from the partners and the Rippel Foundation, the project is funded by the Physicians Foundation. Participants pay fees to cover travel and material costs.

“We are honored that the School of Health and Medical Sciences has been selected for this cutting-edge program,” said Brian B. Shulman, dean of the Seton Hall school. “By partnering academic leadership with health system payer and provider executives and clinicians, we have the best opportunity to find new solutions for our most pressing health system issues.”

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