Harvard Business Review

America is a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We are a nation that cares for our fellow citizens, yet we have failed to create a health care system that fully meets the needs of people in this country. Health care is fragmented, and the quality of care varies widely, which leads to unsustainable health care spending.

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to be implemented, we are seeing increased access to insurance coverage for many. But the ACA does little to address fragmentation, quality of care, and the sustainability of the financial model for U.S. health care — how health care is paid for. More work is needed to achieve the drastic change in market forces that is necessary to create a sustainable health care system. To achieve this, we must reduce fragmentation of care, ensure that the highest quality care is delivered in all settings, and build a sustainable health-care financial model.

Addressing Fragmentation

Health care is experiencing a significant trend of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions. At Mayo Clinic, we have chosen a different path — a path focused on sharing our most scalable product:  our knowledge. We believe that fragmentation and variability in care may best be addressed by creating tools to share knowledge than can be used by providers as they care for patients in their own communities.

At the foundation of our approach is a knowledge-management system — an electronic archive of Mayo Clinic-vetted knowledge containing evidence-based protocols, order sets, alerts and care process models. This system, which can be made available to physicians in any location, brings safer care, better outcomes, fewer redundancies, and ultimately cost savings for our patients. Ask Mayo Expert, one of the many tools in our system, helps physicians deliver safe, integrated, high-quality care. Through this system, physicians can find answers to clinical questions, connect with Mayo experts, search national guidelines and resources, and find relevant educational materials for patients. This knowledge is updated in real time and made widely available.

We have used this knowledge-management system to support the creation of our Mayo Clinic Care Network, an affiliation model rather than a merger or acquisition model. This tool supports health care professionals in their communities, enabling them to provide better care locally at lower cost. This network has been built over two years and includes 21 health systems and hospitals in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Mexico — all of which use Mayo Clinic-vetted knowledge so that other patients can benefit from our 150-year history of innovating and improving patient-centered care.

Addressing Uneven Quality

The proliferation of mandated quality measures and programs is daunting and some would argue has done little to improve quality and transparency for health care consumers. Quality in health care must be based on a comprehensive look at the entirety of a patient’s experience. It is alarming to see more than a two-fold variation in health care quality across the country. Streamlining quality of care can be difficult, which is why we’ve incorporated the use of engineering principles to improve our quality outcomes, safety, and service. We purposefully design, implement, and systematically diffuse quality-improvement efforts at all of our locations around the country. Through this commitment, Mayo Clinic physicians and scientists have contributed more than 400 peer-reviewed papers on quality improvement in the last five years.

The promise of the emerging science of health care delivery is profound, some say game-changing, in its ability to both reduce costs and improve quality. The full potential will be realized through the distribution of the right tools and resources. One such resource is the work of Optum Labs, which we formed with Optum earlier this year. Optum Labs, an open R&D facility with a unique set of clinical and claims data, is being used to drive advances that will improve health care for patients and our country. We are now inviting others — providers, life science companies, research institutions, consumer organizations, and policy makers — to be part of Optum Labs. This opportunity to apply world-class analytical tools to both cost and quality will provide the evidence necessary to deliver care that reduces costs and increases quality at the same time. This effort will allow health care to finally measure value for patients and payers.

Creating a Sustainable Future

Investment in health care is critical at this time. At Mayo Clinic we are investing in new areas of research that will define the future of health care, such as individualized medicine and regenerative medicine. We are also intentionally investing in our most precious resource: our staff. We constantly strive to have the most talented health care workforce anywhere in the country and are investing in their growth and knowledge expansion. For example, we have initiated team-based methods to enhance learning about new regenerative-medicine therapies that help us tailor diagnostics and hold promise to teach the body to heal itself from within. We use the same team-based learning approach to drive ongoing improvement in the quality of care through the discipline of the science of health care delivery.

Just as the private sector must continue to fund research, the same is true for government. Funding for the National Institutes of Health and other agencies is essential for the health of Americans and the economic vitality of our country. Recent reductions in research funding put our nation’s competitiveness, economic security, and future at risk.

We also must embrace the elusive goal of value — higher quality of care at lower cost. We need a payment system that recognizes the spectrum of health care delivery across primary, intermediate, and complex care while rewarding the quality and value of each. This includes all payers — both private insurance and government-funded programs, particularly Medicare. The sustainable growth rate should be replaced with new, negotiated payment models that tie reimbursement to quality outcomes across the spectrum of care.

To transform health care in America into high-quality, patient-centered care that the nation can afford, we must address fragmentation, we must address variable quality, and we need to create a sustainable health-care financial model. Collaboration is key. Mayo Clinic has a long history of innovation focused on improving the value of health care, but we can accomplish much more by working together — integrating and sharing knowledge with one another.

Together, we must create the future of health care, a sustainable future that Americans expect and deserve.