Four Lessons for Healthcare Leaders… from Fantasy Football

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Please note: this post was inspired by a version that originally appeared at the blog of Axene Health Partners. The article here was written with their permission. A big thanks to Josh Axene for the fantastic post!

fantasy-footballFantasy football might seem a strange place to look for insight into the healthcare industry.

But look past the athletes on the gridiron, and you start to understand — this game is absolutely steeped in statistics. And fantasy ‘owners’ are absolutely fanatical about analyzing them.

They assemble their teams from the best players in the entire NFL player roster. To do that, they obsessively rake over the data. They pore over historical stats like yards gained, points conceded, and passing averages. If they want to go deeper into the weeds, they might even consider biometric data like BMI and shoulder-width.

All this so that their team can have a competitive fantasy season.

It may be a peculiar arena to take lessons from, but we at MPIRICA find a lot to admire in fantasy football’s obsession with objectivity. Fantasy owners know that they’ll only succeed through rigorous devotion to data. With an excellent suite of tools, they set their prejudices aside and use the facts to guide them.

Shouldn’t healthcare stakeholders do the same?

Here are four things fantasy football can teach us about our approach to healthcare:

1) Smart owners use data, not subjective prejudices, to guide their decisions.

Fantasy football does not reward sentimentality.

Owners who keep players they ‘just like’, or who only pick hometown athletes, can count on watching their fantasy scores plummet. These emotional biases will ruin their seasons.

Unfortunately, similar biases can hound hospitals, health-plans, and payers. They let subjective factors, like personality, prestige, and brand-power, cloud their judgments about which hospitals and providers to partner with.

These biased decisions won’t necessarily lead to disastrous outcomes. But they won’t reliably lead to good ones, either — reputation doesn’t always align with reality.

Fantasy football owners know that they need to discount their personal prejudices when they draft players. Healthcare stakeholders should know that, too.

The Lesson: Watch for subjective biases when you evaluate providers.

2) Winning owners drop low performers.

Sometimes, healthcare business arrangements can outlast their usefulness. Institutional inertia, or a misplaced sense of loyalty, props them up.

This is how providers can retain connections with employers / networks / payers, even if their performance starts to sag. They’re protected by contracts, the length of their tenure, — or by fear of litigation — not necessarily because they’re good at what they do.

Patients struggle with this, too. For them, switching providers can be an intimidating process. So they might hesitate to make the leap, even if they start to feel unsatisfied with their doctors.

Fantasy football players, on the other hand, will not abide subpar performance.

If a player drags the team down, he gets dropped. After all, the owner has only so many slots on his roster; he has to reserve them for the very best he can get.

Healthcare systems, too, should edge low-performers out of their rosters. They need to keep their rosters stacked with the very best performers. That’s how they can secure good outcomes for their patients.

The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to drop providers who depress healthcare outcomes.

3) Owners have the tools they need for success.

Forbes estimates that Americans spend $70 Billion each year on fantasy football.

With an industry that large, small wonder that the pastime is full of startling technological innovation. Owners have a wealth of resources at their disposal.

They can manage their teams from anywhere on a smartphone, a tablet, or even with their TVs. Social media connects them with other owners, so they can discuss decisions immediately after they happen. And for research, they have slick, intuitive, user-friendly services that give them all the data they could ever want.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of patients in the US can’t even schedule a doctor’s appointment on their smartphones.

And most healthcare outcomes data is frustratingly opaque, siloed away in inaccessible black boxes.

The US healthcare system’s digital infrastructure falls embarrassingly behind other segments of the economy. But thankfully, a few innovators (like MPIRICA) are marking important strides.

All the same, it will be some time before payers, providers, and networks have tools comparable to what’s on offer for fantasy football owners.

The Lesson: Find the best tools out there to augment your performance.

4) The best owners are constantly evaluating, and in it for the long haul.

And that may sound discouraging. But one of the most important lessons fantasy football owners can offer to healthcare leaders — never stop analyzing and take the long view.

Players know that seasons aren’t won in a single game. They spend, on average, eight hours per week, every week carefully culling their rosters and managing their teams. They do this because they know that their steady, incremental efforts will add up to success.

It’s an admirable attitude, and one healthcare leaders can learn from.

The Lesson: Take heart, and take steps toward a positive future for the industry.


Questions about how MPIRICA can help your company have a better season? Email