White Water Rafting

The White Waters of Healthcare IT

In late summer, I had the opportunity to take a group of boy scouts on a white-water-rafting trip on a stretch of the Snake River near Jackson, Wyoming. The scouts had spent nearly a year planning this super adventure and couldn’t believe the trip had finally arrived. As a leader, I work to support the boys in the different activities they want to experience while making sure everyone is safe. Due to increased rain and snowfall, the Snake River water levels far surpassed normal levels, adding to my concerns about the safety of our group.

As we started down the river, our well-seasoned guide used extra precautions by calling out detailed directions. She trained us by commanding one side of the raft to row and then the other. Within a few minutes, our troop synced up and we got pretty good at navigating the raft in the fast-flowing water. As we approached the first of many rapids to come, our guide gave us specific instructions on what to do when we entered the white water. She explained, “As soon as we hit the rapid, everyone must continue to paddle all the way through the rapid.”  She went on to explain that paddling through the rapids is critical for a couple of key reasons:

1) Momentum. When you continue paddling, it keeps your momentum going forward and thus reduces the chances of the raft getting sucked back into the rapid and potentially folding in half or capsizing.

2) Stability. Continuous paddling gives each passenger some resistance to push against and therefore some stability in an otherwise turbulent ride through the waves. Basically, paddling helps keep people inside the raft.

Following the pep talk, we entered the first rapid. About half of the boys paddled, and the other half didn’t. While we knew we needed to paddle, that didn’t change how challenging manning the oars felt as the boat whipped back and forth over the waves. It required tremendous focus to keep digging our paddles into the roaring current. After several more stretches of rapids, we eventually got the hang of things and ended up having great time, all while staying safe.

As I thought about this experience, I couldn’t help but think about how it might apply to healthcare reform. Healthcare now faces some incredibly difficult rapids as an industry. There’s uncertainty around the ACA, value-based care, population health, and an almost unending list of other issues.

I feel that KLAS is a bit like a rafting guide. So often, KLAS has the responsibility of watching the currents and calling on organizations to continue to paddle through the rapids.

Because of changing water levels, our rafting guide couldn’t know exactly what each bend in the river would hold. However, because of her experience and position at the highest point on the raft, she knew enough to get us through safely. While similar uncertainty exists around the future of healthcare, KLAS has the unique position of past experience and a good vantage point.

Thankfully, KLAS is not alone. We’re surrounded by groups who are excited to meet the white waters of uncertainty head-on, such as the providers who continue to march toward value-based care even while being paid based on a fee-for-service model. We see the same resolve in vendors pushing the envelope on development to support new care models while listening closely to their provider customers to help meet the providers where they are.

KLAS regularly publishes what we’ve learned from our provider and payer friends in the form of reports. Our goal is to help the industry navigate rough waters, and we invite you to see how we can offer specific help to you and your organization.