Access to care investments are an economic boon, Dignity Health CFO says 

A compass pointing to the word "Innovative"
Dignity CFO Dan Morissette says scale gives the system more data to make investments in population health. (Getty/Olivier Le Moal)

Improving patients' access to care is more than just a public health imperative—it should be an economic one, too. 

Dan Morissette, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer at California-based Dignity Health, told FierceHealthcare that it's clear that "healthier people are certainly more productive people." 

"I believe, clearly, that caring for America's workforce does create a healthier population, and it also translates its way into more productivity for business," Morissette said. 

Dan Morissette Dignity Health
Dan Morissette (Dignity Health)

People who are ill, on the other hand, often require significant financial support and may not be thriving members of the workforce, Morissette said. That's why it's crucial for health systems like Dignity to invest in innovative ways to improve healthcare access and prevent disease. 

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Recent research, Morissette noted, suggests that the indirect costs associated with preventable disease—such as lost productivity at work—total $1 trillion each year. Much of the nation's healthcare spending is also tied to preventable diseases or behavioral health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 86% of the $2.7 trillion spent on healthcare each year is linked to one of the two. 

Morissette said Dignity has invested significantly in efforts to increase access to care and improve population health, such as growing the system's capacity for data analytics to address the social determinants of health. Investing in precision medicine is another strategy the health system is taking to address these concerns, he said. 

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Dignity Health's size allows it to act as an "incubator" for innovative approaches that can curb rising costs, Morissette said. 

"We try to combine our innovative thinking ability with the ability to deliver that to the people we serve," he said. 

A large health system has the power to expand the value of healthcare beyond an individual patient or an individual hospital to address the needs of an entire community, he said. 

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Increasing the system's presence is crucial to these efforts, according to Morissette. Dignity, like plenty of hospitals and health systems across the country, is embracing mergers, acquisitions and strategic alignment to build the scale they need to compete. At the same time, some systems, like Sutter Health, have run up against legal challenges to rapid expansion. 

Dignity's megamerger with Catholic Health Initiatives is expected to close by the end of the year, and the chief executives of both systems said the $28 billion deal will allow each to operate better in nontraditional markets. 

Morissette said increasing scale has a significant impact on the amount of data the system can collect for population health initiatives. Larger, more comprehensive data sets can be used both to study smaller populations or to expand to broader, systemwide initiatives. 

"Scale clearly helps us have a more sizable data set to work with," he said.