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Are health start-ups creating cooler cultures than the hospitals they serve?

I’ve written before about my concerns about work environment in many hospitals. I looked at culture when applauding Evernote’s employe-centric policies and again recently when exploring the Bossless Office. Writing for the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog, Sarah Kliff looks at the trend of hospitals forming their own insurance plans. Us healthcare nerds call these risk-bearing entities, and it’s not a particularly new idea. Why be beholden to a third-party insurance company if you could cut them, and the associated overhead, out? That’s been a key component of Geisinger’s Proven Care program for years.

When I speak to hospital administrators about innovation, what I often hear about is new, experimental models for paying for healthcare.

I’m not sure that’s what the rest of the world thinks of when they hear the world innovation. I think many picture iPhones, Virgin America planes and Tesla sports cars. And when we think about those things, we imagine fun people in jeans gathered in glass-walled rooms imagineering (whatever that means).

What caught my eye in Kilff’s article was her descriptions of the third party company, Evolent, which helps large health systems set up their payor plans.

From the article:

… Evolent Health could be a movie set for a Silicon Valley start-up — the kind that starts with millions in venture capital funding, not in a founder’s grungy garage. An immaculate micro-kitchen, stocked with sodas and fruit, opens to a lounge with a plush white couch and big-screen TV. Two treadmill desks nearby are decked out with laptop workstations. [On a Wednesday morning, though, no employees were using any of these amenities. …[employes] were working, many with headphones on, at long rows of gleaming metal desks. Evolent has no offices, not even for its top executives. Glass conference-room walls are covered in scribbles from red, blue and green markers. “We wanted a sort of Steve Jobs feel,” Evolent co-founder and president Seth Blackley said, explaining the open landscape.

I’m admittedly mixed about what I see as a trend: the innovative, cool places to work aren’t hospitals but rather the companies who support them. On one hand, its nice to know there are places in healthcare to attract a workforce of engaged, creative and modern workers. On the other, will hospitals be left in the dust by millennials and others who desire a less conservative environment?

its not fair to expect a 60 year-old building to look like the inside of an Apple store. Really, space is really a proxy for the culture and nature of work in a given space. Inherent in my thinking is the idea that workplace culture, employee talent mix and innovative strategies are all tied together. I certainly don’t mean to suggest treadmill desks alone will produce the hospital equivalent of Virgin America planes. But is it reasonable to connect environment to talent attraction and thinking?

CancerGeek points out, on twitter, some hospitals do offer modern work environments. But its still pretty limited.

Will more join the fold, or will we see a brain-drain towards smaller, start-up style third-party players?


Here’s the original tweet from TEDMED to Kliff’s article: