Advisory Board’s C-suite clients might be wary of Optum

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Strategic advisory services, like those provided by the Advisory Board, are increasingly valuable for organizations that are struggling to keep up with changes in the healthcare system.

Optum, which recently announced it will acquire the Advisory Board’s healthcare business, may have a tough time earning the trust of the firm's health system clients.

The $1.3 billion deal between Optum and the Advisory Board is expected to close by the end of this year or in early 2018. Vista Equity Partners, meanwhile, will purchase the Advisory Board’s education division. The total value of the two transactions is estimated at $2.58 billion.

Optum’s new asset will give it direct access to the C-suites of the 4,000 clients that rely on the Advisory Board for strategic consulting, notes John Moore, founder and managing partner of the firm Chilmark Research. Such services are increasingly valuable for organizations that are struggling to keep up with changes in the healthcare system.

Yet Moore wonders if Optum—a payer-owned entity—will be able to maintain those client relationships with hospital and health system executives. “It is one thing to purchase technology assets from Optum, quite another to seek strategic advice,” he writes.

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Thus, Moore predicts that Optum will be able to keep only 40% or less of the Advisory Board’s clients. The firm’s technology solutions will likely benefit Optum the most, he added—though Optum still must also convince clients that their tech investments are “sound and future-proofed.”

Not all industry watchers are so concerned, however. In a research note issued when the deal was announced, Leerink Partners analyst Ana Gupte wrote that she expects UnitedHealth will continue “successfully managing” any confidentiality concerns across its managed care businesses and Optum.

Indeed, OptumCare—which describes itself as a "physician-led, patient-centric, data-driven care delivery organization"—is already quite comfortable working with providers. Earlier this year, it grew its capabilities by acquiring Surgical Care Affiliates, an ambulatory surgery center and surgical hospital provider.

Optum also plays a role in the 10-year strategic partnership that UnitedHealthcare has entered with UC Health, through which the entities will create an accountable care organization and design clinically integrated provider networks.