On Friday, March 15, 2013, approximately 100 healthcare executives, physicians and other persons interested in learning about the future of healthcare in Florida, attended Akerman Senterfitt’s second annual Healthcare Briefing at the Westin Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

The Briefing was co-sponsored by BB&T and McGladrey, LLP, and featured a discussion with four prominent Florida healthcare executives: Phil Dutcher, Chief Operating Officer of NCH Healthcare Systems; Ralph Lawson, Executive Vice President and CFO of Baptist Health South Florida; Dr. Jonathan Gavras, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Florida Blue; and David Rogers, Florida’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Medicaid Health Systems.

Echoing national concerns about the exploding cost of healthcare, the principal theme of the discussion was controlling healthcare costs. In response to a question about forging collaborative arrangements among healthcare industry participants to control costs, Mr. Lawson and Dr. Gavras discussed an accountable care organization that was recently organized as a cooperative venture by Baptist Health South Florida, Florida Blue, and a large oncology group practicing at the Baptist hospitals for the purposes of controlling the cost of providing care to cancer patients. Although still in the early stages of operations, this arrangement appears to be producing favorable results for patients at reasonable costs. The panelists noted that, counter-intuitively, lower costs do not necessarily mean lower quality of services. To the contrary, implementing measures to increase the quality of care often results in lower costs, over the long term. Panelists noted that implementing measures to increase quality and reduce costs involves a lot of hard work, and a lot of up-front expenditures, but, if a program is properly designed, in the long term, the efforts and the expenditures will produce the desired results – higher quality and lower costs.

Other trends cited by panelists include greater utilization of interoperable electronic medical records systems, which enable various providers to access a patient’s complete medical record quickly and easily; increased utilization of telemedicine; and increased utilization of physician extenders – physician assistants and nurse practitioners – for patient encounters not requiring the expertise of a licensed physician. The two hospital administrators on the panel also cited a growing trend for care to be provided in ambulatory care facilities, and even in the patient’s home, rather than in an acute care hospital, which is it the highest cost location for providing care.

Akerman’s Healthcare Practice Group has already started planning for next year’s Healthcare Briefing. Look for a Save the Date notification early in 2014.