I am currently in Haifa, Israel, addressing a conference being held by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research entitled "Governing Hospitals." Here's the summary of the program:
As explained here, Israeli hospitals come in several varieties. An excerpt of the context:
Israel has a national health insurance system that provides for universal coverage. Every citizen or permanent resident of Israel is free to choose from among four competing, non- profit-making health plans. The health plans must provide their members with access to a benefits package that is specified within the NHI Law. The system is financed primarily through taxation linked to income (through a combination of earmarked taxes and general revenue). The Government distributes the NHI funds among the health plans according to a capitation formula which takes into account the number of members within each plan and their age mix.
The Ministry of Health has overall responsibility for the health of the population and the effective functioning of the health care system. In recent years the Ministry has developed strong capabilities in the areas of health technology assessment (HTA), the prioritization of new technologies, health plan regulation, quality monitoring for community-based care, and strategic planning to set goals for population health, along with strategies for achieving them.
In addition to its regulatory, planning and policy-making roles, the Ministry of Health also owns and operates about half of the nation’s acute care hospital beds. The largest health plan operates another third of the beds, and the remainder are operated by means of a mix of non-profit-making and profit- making organizations.
As you might expect, therefore, the questions of hospital governance in this country are complex and multivariate. It is impressive, therefore, that this conference was organized to provide the leaders of the hospitals with a chance to join together and consider future directions.
Speakers included Richard Saltman, from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University, and Dr. Antonio Durán, from the Andalusian School of Public Health in Sevilla, Spain. You see them here with one of our hosts, Schlomo Mor-Yosef, Director General of the Hadassah Medical Organization. Nigel Edwards, from the UK's NHS, was supposed to attend but got busy with the issues mentioned above and sent a video of his remarks.
Professor Saltman summarized European efforts to restructure how public hospitals are governed. Starting with the introduction of self-governing trusts in England in 1991, policymakers in a number of countries have sought to design more independent decision-making capacity into public hospitals. The goal has been to generate more innovative and entrepreneurial behavior, while simultaneously preserving the social advantages that accompany publicly operated institutions.
Dr. Durán discussed the Spanish experience, noting that the country has explored various hospital self-governance arrangements over two decades. It has done so, however, via ad hoc, politically-driven, last-minute legislation, resulting in a confusing regulatory framework, with national and regional norms superseding each other. Various self-governing hospitals with different ownership status, legal characteristics, and degrees of autonomy and accountability now co-exist with traditionally managed public hospitals.
My talk was on the evolution of governance of US hospitals from a traditional focus mainly on financial management to an expanded view of a board's fiduciary responsibility, with a concern for issues of quality, safety, and efficacy of clinical care. My theme was that a well-functioning governing body can enable hospital leaders and management to harness the experience, wisdom, and judgment of members of the community to build a stronger hospital.
By the way, someone pointed out today that there is no Hebrew word for governance, making it an elusive concept here, perhaps culturally as well as linguistically. This suggests that some degree of flexibility will characterize the evolution of this concept in this country. But let's not be purists about this. After all, even in other parts of the world where governance is clearly part of the vernacular, it is not universally well executed. This conference suggests that we all can learn from one another.