25th Princeton Conference Shows How Employers are Getting Active, Demanding Healthcare Value

Kate Dickerson

Women of Impact  Dr. Karen Feinstein and Dr. Vivian Lee recently shared a stage at the Princeton Conference. The Princeton Conference annually convenes leaders from academia, industry, and government to discuss and debate pressing healthcare issues during an invitation-only event. Through interactive panels and presentations, attendees talk economics and policy across disciplines and party lines. JHF is a long-time sponsor of the Princeton Conference, which is organized by a planning committee that includes Karen Feinstein.

The 2018 Princeton conference, which marked the 25th anniversary of the gathering, was held from May 22-24 at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Princeton University. More than 130 attendees took on topics that included activating employers to demand healthcare value, combating rising prescription drug costs, shaping the future of the healthcare workforce, making the business case for addressing the social determinants of health, and envisioning the future of Medicare and Medicaid.

Dr. Feinstein moderated a panel discussion that focused on ways that employers can lead the charge toward high-quality, value-based health care. The panelists included David A. Asch, MD, MBA, the John Morgan Professor and executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania; Robert S. Kaplan, PhD, senior fellow and Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School; and Vivian S. Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, president of health platforms at Verily.

Dr. Asch focused on ways that health care could learn from other industries by adopting a philosophy of customer-focused design and rapid-cycle testing and implementation. He suggested that innovative employers that are getting into the healthcare space—including Amazon—could design health services and products for employees with a three-step validation process. That process centers on three key questions: does anyone want it, what will people do with it, and what are the outcomes of use.

Dr. Kaplan shed light on employer opportunities to innovate in delivering health care to employees. He noted that large employers such as Boeing, GE, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart have created Centers of Excellence, directing their employees to the highest-rated providers for particular conditions across the country. Business groups on health have banded together, using their purchasing power and collective knowledge to define clinical components and quality standards. These employer-led efforts have created pathways to safe, high-quality, and accountable health care for employees— whether they need a knee replacement, help managing a health condition, or maternity care.
Dr. Lee explained the changing dynamics of the healthcare market, and showed how employer-clinician partnerships can be mutually beneficial. In response to rising healthcare costs, employers have shifted more financial responsibility to employees in the form of higher premiums and deductibles. Some employers have incentivized healthy behaviors by lowering premiums, set up on-site clinics, and created Centers of Excellence for surgery and complex care. Dr. Lee said that employers can partner with clinicians to decipher and translate health data, stratify risk, and create purchasing specifications. ​

“Employers across the country are striking back,” Dr. Feinstein notes. “They’re tired of the 30-40% of health spending that’s wasted, and they’re trying new and different things. They’re demanding efficiency, reliability, and safety. Essentially, they’re creating their own high-value health systems by assembling or identifying superb individual components.”