Greg Poulsen

Q&A with Greg Poulsen, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Intermountain Healthcare

August 09, 2016
by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor
HealthCare Business News recently spoke with Greg Poulsen, senior vice president for Intermountain Healthcare, to learn more about his long-standing role with the organization, what developments are in the works and how the health care provider attracts top talent and patients.

HCB News: How did you get involved in health care?
I’ve been at Intermountain Healthcare since graduate school, so 34 years. I came here because I was looking for analytical tools to assist in understanding the costs in health care.

HCB News: How did that get you involved with Intermountain?
It wasn’t something obvious to me at the time. I was in business school and troubled by America’s non-competitiveness in the world. Part of the problem was America’s cost of health care. I found Intermountain wasn’t in it to make money. It was working to improve lives and it was led by people to deliver national economic security.

HCB News: What attracts staff?
There’s our mission statement of helping people live the healthiest lives possible. I think we really believe our success is contingent on our belief in our mission statement.

HCB News: What is the leadership style there?
It’s very collaborative. We have had three CEOs from our start in 1975 to the present time. All have been in the mode of collaboration leading to the best performance.

HCB News: What attracts patients?
People want to know that when they have a critical health problem, we can provide everything necessary to care for them and the best opportunity to be healthy. The fact that we understand best practices and have survival rates for things like acute respiratory issues and sepsis that are dramatically better than the national average helps attract patients, too.

HCB News: What challenges does Intermountain Healthcare face?
Probably, the biggest challenge is the same challenge everyone’s trying to solve. It’s finding ways to provide care more affordably. Our nation simply can’t afford the cost of care today.

HCB News: What are you looking to do better?
In general, there are a whole series of things we can do more effectively to prevent entire areas of illnesses. For example, at Intermountain, the diabetics we treat are at lower risk of heart disease, blindness or amputation than the general public because we work with them to keep their blood sugar under tight control. That’s the type of thing we want to do across all of our care for patients. We want to avoid the necessity of treating those additional problems, and those additional areas of treatment, in the first place, and we have proven it’s possible and seen the benefits to the health care system, and more importantly, to our patients.

HCB News: What differentiates Intermountain from other health care systems?
We focus on evidence-based value improvement. Being able to understand cost and care analytically has allowed us to provide a clear-eyed look and understand before and after cost reductions and quality improvements.

HCB News: Have there been any big surprises uncovered with that analytical approach?
Maybe the biggest, and the one that continues to appear, is that whenever we take a hard look, we find we’re not as good as we think we are. It opens discussions on how we can do better.

HCB News: When those types of conversations occur, are there challenges or questions from departments?
Initially, we did get a lot of questions. We, the analysts, were lucky enough or smart enough to approach by asking, “Does this look right? How could we make it better?” It was an education, not an accusation. Everyone wants to do things better. It’s exceedingly rare for people not to care about quality.

HCB News: What kind of savings did those improvements deliver?
Over the years, hundreds of millions of dollars. Once something is in place, though, you no longer have a baseline. We have had something like 110 individual projects.
Some have provided something like $5 million in savings while others provided little in savings, but increased the quality of care. When we improve a process, there’s an added benefit. In 1983, we brought up our own insurance plan. SelectHealth is now the largest insurer in the state of Utah. So when we see improvements in doing something a certain way, there’s an added benefit.

HCB News: How has health care reform impacted your facilities?
Part of health care reform we like is the focus on accountable care, and focusing on the whole person, not just on treatment. It creates the best position for people to be healthy and to keep costs down.

HCB News: Do you think the upcoming presidential election will impact health care?
No doubt. The differences between the candidates are profound and the changes could be fairly dramatic.