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Change Healthcare CEO Neil de Crescenzo: ‘Leaders are incorporating broad societal changes into their strategies’

de Crescenzo discusses the need for personalization in health care, incorporating health equity into the culture and community, and value-based care.

Health Evolution | August 9, 2021

As President and CEO of Change Healthcare, de Crescenzo draws on his diverse background to help his team develop tools and technologies to improve the health care system.

Health Evolution interviewed de Crescenzo about why he thinks the pandemic has led to an acceleration more than a technological turning point; the opportunity to provide personalized care; and the increased importance of attracting, retaining and engaging employees.  

Looking back at your career, how does working in the technology and health care sectors inform the way that you lead the organization?
de Crescenzo: I feel particularly fortunate because I have been able to see the health care industry and the technology industry from a variety of perspectives. Health care is a complex system and I’ve been fortunate to see it from the payer side, from the provider side, and from the technology side both globally and in the United States. While I am not a clinician on the front lines of care, I believe my ability to see the health care system as a whole helps me to encourage my team members to use our existing products and services—and create new solutions—to help all health care stakeholders understand and fight the global pandemic.

In thinking back on the past 15 months, I couldn’t be prouder of the many achievements our team has accomplished in what has been a historically unprecedented and challenging year. The diverse experiences and viewpoints of our team were critical to our ability to be agile and incorporate equity and inclusiveness into the work we did with customers and how we addressed the needs of our employees.

Drawing on that experience as a veteran executive, what do you see as different about this moment in time, if anything? Will history remember the pandemic as a turning point for technology in health care?
de Crescenzo: The pandemic initiated a new wave of innovation and collaboration across U.S. health care, including the massive growth of virtual care and telehealth services. However, I think it’s inaccurate to look at the pandemic as a turning point. I do think the right word when it comes to the pandemic is an “accelerant”. For example, our team members stepped up to utilize our existing products for telehealth, taking our MedRx claims billing and consumer engagement solution for pharmacies and enhancing it to expand access to COVID-19 testing. Our InterQual clinical decision support platform and our Intelligent Medical Network were frequently updated as diagnoses, treatment, and reimbursement aspects of addressing the pandemic changed and evolved, including with regard to mental health services. For many years, we’ve had fairly codified data in both the administrative and financial spheres of health care, but it’s only in the last decade that we’ve gotten to a digital representation of the clinical care process through electronic medical records. This is the fundamental change that has really allowed us to bring information technology to bear on streamlining our financial and administrative processes.

Another long-term trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic is the focus on consumerism. The availability of clinical data allows for both health systems and health plans to take a more patient- or member-centric approach in how they provide value, aligning with the larger societal trend of people having more control over their environment using digital tools.

As an example of this acceleration, I think about when COVID-19 vaccination efforts began scaling last December. We collaborated with tech partners to develop an open standard for digital Vaccine Records. We now see large health care organizations using this open standard and we hope other organizations—not only companies but also states and counties—do as well, given that the federal government has not mandated a singular approach for the country.

Corporate citizenship and community engagement help build a culture of change within your organization, but they can also have a meaningful impact on social issues more broadly.

Neil de Crescenzo, Change Healthcare

What from your perspective should be the top priorities for CEOs as the industry emerges from this pandemic? 
de Crescenzo: As leaders in health care, we need to focus on how we’re contributing to the broader changes needed in society. One of our company’s core values is to “Include All,” and we challenge ourselves to do this every day by celebrating diversity and inclusivity, respecting each other and valuing our unique experiences. There’s been a lot of discussion in the last year around structural racism and other inequities in society. Certainly, those in the field consider health care to be a fundamental human right. We need to ensure the changes we’re making in health care are contributing to the changes we need in society that enable us all to live happier, healthier lives. As leaders in the health care industry, we must think about a trajectory in which we can influence both our own and other industries to improve the society in which we live.

Take virtual care delivery mechanisms. The transition to value-based care, a health care model in which care delivery systems get reimbursed based on the patients’ health status or outcomes, is enabling greater flexibility in care delivery models, as well as increased data integration and improved results for patients. But as these new delivery and reimbursement methods roll out, we need to equally ensure they improve access to care and a personalized approach to engaging and treating patients, especially for traditionally underserved communities.

As the many payers and providers we work with make the shift to value-based care, we’ve committed to helping them make better decisions more quickly using unique, insights-driven technology. In November 2020, we launched our Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) Analytics, a national data resource that connects the circumstances of people’s lives to the care they receive. We also partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to launch a DSaaS offering to make SDoH data broadly available to all types and sizes of health care organizations, including small, community-based organizations. This SDoH solution helps health care organizations explore how geodemographic factors affect patient outcomes to provide the appropriate care upfront.

As we begin to see a return to stability in the health care delivery system, we need to turn our attention to the long-standing inequities in access to health care that came into sharp relief during the pandemic. As we already spend more on health care per capita in U.S. than any other country (nearly double what comparable countries spend), one way to address inequities is to reduce unnecessary spending and re-direct those resources to underserved communities. Change Health care plays a leading role in that positive feedback loop.

You mentioned earlier that health care is a basic human right. What do you personally think about the broader changes needed in society, particularly as related to structural racism? What is Change Healthcare doing to address these issues?  
de Crescenzo: At Change Healthcare, our commitment to inclusivity is reflected in how we attract and retain potential employees, engage current employees, and develop health care solutions like I mentioned before with our Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) Analytics that equip health care professionals to combat inequities in care across diverse population groups. While we remain committed to addressing inequality and harmful bias in health care, it is also vitally important that we address these issues within our own organizations.  

I believe that taking action to address social injustice, discrimination, and bias within our own organizations, industry, and community is part of being the type of company appreciated by and sought after by customers, partners and consumers. Meaningful change only happens when we bring together diverse perspectives and experiences to combat systemic inequities. From unconscious bias to conscious action training to engagement in our communities, leaders can—and should—engage their organizations in dialogue around inclusivity and diversity.

While it is an important first step, enacting change just within your organization is simply not enough. Corporate citizenship and community engagement help build a culture of change within your organization, but they can also have a meaningful impact on social issues more broadly.

Supporting social justice and equity causes must be authentic to your organization and your people, not just a marketing strategy. Organizations should do research, speak with individuals directly impacted by social injustice as well as employees throughout the company, and align their corporate-giving initiatives with their overall mission before determining how to allocate donations. At Change Healthcare, we’ve committed to giving to organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative, and most recently, Black Girls Code, an organization that provides after-school education to middle and high school girls to help them develop coding skills.

As corporate social responsibility expands to include what Harvard Business Review calls corporate social justice, it is becoming a business imperative that organizations address social justice, equity, and inclusivity within their hiring practices, employee engagement programs, communication and corporate giving. Dedicated efforts to continue and expand inclusivity are about more than just good business. They help build a more diverse and inclusive culture and society—a responsibility that falls on all of us, including business leaders.

When it comes to Change Healthcare, what should existing and prospective clients expect in the next 18 to 24 months?
de Crescenzo: As we look ahead to the future of health care, we feel privileged to be working with our innovative customers and partners, some of which we have been working with for decades, to improve health care for all. We are now incorporating insights from behavioral science, along with AI and design thinking, into our training at every level of our organization. Inspiring our employees to use these new approaches and master these new skills will have a major effect on driving innovation, our growth rate, and most importantly, the value we provide our customers and partners in the years ahead.

We will accelerate the pace and expand the breadth of solutions to build on advances in the regulatory environment and information standards, so our customers can make better decisions faster. We will continue to build upon our investments in health care consumerism to broadly empower patients and caregivers to coordinate care and increase preventative care. And through our partnerships, joint development initiatives, and support for both industry leaders and start-ups, we will enable our innovations to be incorporated into solutions of all sizes and in every segment of the health care industry.

We all sometimes underestimate how much can change, and how quickly. We underestimate new competitors and market disruption. Take our business at Change Healthcare. If we only created products for today’s biggest health care companies—the companies we’ve historically focused on—we’d miss out on massive opportunities. That’s because new entrants into the industry are experiencing incredible growth and having an impact that we probably could not have forecasted just a few years ago. So we make sure we balance our investments across the current leaders and start-ups so that we can continue our multi-decade track record of growth.

About the Author

Health Evolution, Staff Writer