We Know the Health Ecosystem is Fragmented, Resulting in Rising Costs and Poorer Patient Outcomes, But What Are We Doing About It?

As We Enter the ”Post-Fragmentation" Period, Health System Kinetics Points Us Toward Long Awaited Solutions

Senator Bernie Sanders has a villain in his sights. During his hearings in February, we all saw the Senator grill pharmaceutical company executives about high drug prices. The hearings prompted a good deal of media and online discussion, and while there was heat generated, there was not a lot of light in the form of revelations or viable, workable answers.

Not to take anything away from the Senator’s apparent concern for his constituents’ real, valid frustration with the health system, but is his villain the right one? Is it a fundamental misreading of the facts of the US health ecosystem to believe that there is any one villain in the system at all? The real, underlying reason that the US health system is so fragmented is that the system itself is the problem. And, as it must be, the system will be the source of any viable solution that makes navigating less challenging and more holistically unified.

Stop Blaming Individual Sectors — Look at the Aggregate

High drug prices are just one symptom of a health ecosystem already becoming increasingly fragmented several decades ago. The problem was well-established and recognized when economist Dr. Alain C. Enthoven wrote about it in the American Journal of Managed Care more than a decade ago, positing that inefficient allocation of resources negatively impacted quality, cost of care and medicines, and patient outcomes.

Since then, little has changed. In 2016, FINN Partners released a survey showing that the fragmented health ecosystem was placing an ever-greater burden on patients, the people the system is supposed to protect and serve — and was increasingly failing. Eight years later, the results of this survey will not have changed significantly.

For decades, payers, patients, policymakers, product innovators, and providers turned a blind eye to fragmentation. And while policymakers prefer to spotlight a popular villain — drug cost — the relentless search for villains won’t fix fragmentation. If we attack one piece of the ecosystem rather than look at the problem, we will fail to make meaningful change. While putting pharmaceutical company CEOs under the glare of the Senate HELP spotlight may provide a tremendous election-year photo-op, bipartisan grandstanding is antithetical to addressing the health system’s continued splintering.

If the System Were a Patient with Multi-System Failure, Would We Treat Only One Organ?

We now know beyond a doubt that the health system is fragmented and has a cost impact. It is time to move from this era of fragmentation into the “post-fragmentation” period. Rather than finger-pointing and finding scapegoats, what’s needed is a fuller understanding of how the system works — and fails to work — for the patient. This requires looking at the full picture objectively, without accusation, to understand better how the different players in the system can work together to support the same goal: a health system in which the patient, not the system itself, is the health system’s true beneficiary.

It’s a fact: prescription drug prices in the United States are higher than in other nations, averaging 2.78 times those seen in 33 different countries, according to the February 2024 RAND report. But are pharma companies the sole cause of this patient burden and health-system chaos? Absolutely not: drug costs comprise about 11 percent of the total $4 trillion in US health expenditures. In reality, provider and hospital services total almost half of US health spend (31.4 percent and 20.3 percent respectively).

Fragmentation Adds to Patient Care Burdens and Costs

Fragmentation leads to out-of-control spending across the system. According to a 2018 Commonwealth Fund study, Medicare recipients “with three to four chronic conditions and highly fragmented care are 14 percent more likely to visit the emergency department, and six percent more likely to have a hospital admission.”

If the US health system were a publicly traded corporation, this hemorrhaging of cash would have been decisively stopped years ago. Taken together, the $4 trillion in annual US healthcare costs can be laid on the doorstep of nearly every player in the ecosystem, from insurance companies to PBMs, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, government, hospitals, and venture capital, to name a few — even endless consumer demand and neglected preventive care.

Operating with a business-as-usual approach will carry steep costs in money and lives. When the system fails to engage people proactively with heightened risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other non-communicable illnesses, when it denies patients diagnostic procedures ordered by their physicians, when it shifts patients from working medications to substitute therapies due to a non-medical switch decision, curiously, some parts of the system benefit to the detriment of patients.

These situations shouldn’t be, as the consequences of the current line and the decisions they reward can be dire, leading to rising costs, diminished patient care, and even death. Ultimately, the chaos around care delivery comes from considering patients a necessary fly in the system’s ointment. The patient is not the health system customer. The system is a customer unto itself.

Can We All Focus On Why the System Exists — To Heal Patients?

We recognize the health system’s failings but must also identify its strengths and potential for improvement. This will allow us to reorient our thinking and ask, “Now, what do we do to put the patient back into focus as the ultimate customer and the preferred beneficiary of the system?”

Stanford Physician Ilana Yurkiewicz, an internist, hematologist, and oncologist, in her book Fragmented: A Doctor’s Quest to Piece Together American Health Care, published by W. W. Norton, argues that it’s actually fragmentation that’s the central failure of health care today, resulting in a system that uses more than twice the economic resources other developed nations dedicate toward health and which results in poorer life expectancy outcomes:

“There’s an unspoken assumption when we go to see a doctor: the doctor knows our medical story and is making decisions based on that story. But reality frequently falls short. Medical records vanish when we switch doctors. Critical details of life-saving treatment plans get lost in muddled electronic charts. The doctors we see change according to specialty, hospital shifts, or an insurer’s whims.”

No longer are we debating whether the system is fragmented or not. We must shift our mindsets and drop the mistaken belief that identifying bad players in the ecosystem will fix the problem. With ecosystem fragmentation as the diagnosis, what is the treatment path to better management? This is where “Health System Kinetics” (HSK) enters. HSK fosters collaboration and leverages health information technologies — AI, ChatGPT, GenAI, and LLMs — to create an eco-dynamic that prioritizes people’s well-being and works toward longer, healthier lives.

The Health System is Greater Than Its Sector Parts — Study its Kinetics

Health System Kinetics objectively studies factors and sector-to-sector relationships influencing individual and collective health outcomes. It includes biological, environmental, social, and economic determinants of health. Understanding health system kinetics will allow the health system to evolve for the better, benefiting its stakeholders and addressing gaps and inefficiencies in people’s care by fostering a proactive, positive approach.

Understanding why fragmented care is a system-wide illness is a starting point we passed long ago. Looking at the health ecosystem as an ever-changing aggregate — kinetics — rather than separate sectors at fault is the opportunity to move beyond the present chaos.

Fragmentation goes beyond the left hand, not knowing what the right is doing. Too often, it means that the left hand won’t acknowledge the right hand’s very existence. While rising costs concern everyone, it’s essential to keep our eye on the goal of keeping people healthier at home, out of the hospital, and, if possible, far away from illnesses. To do that, we must address the misalignment of incentives and lack of coordination in the health ecosystem.

Applying Health System Kinetics will allow us to understand better how we can do this to provide better patient care, reduce health professional burnout, and give patients with chronic conditions greater attention. The objective study of the interconnectedness of the parts of the healthc system will promote a better understanding of how these components work together now — and how they can be changed to work better together in the future. Failing to take this approach means we won’t see meaningful change, and that’s not an option.

Do Not Let the Virus Kill its Host — the Health System

We have diagnosed the illness that plagues our health system; it’s a virus called fragmentation. It’s time to examine our biases, behaviors, and business goals. The primary mission is to recognize that we are people — sometimes patients — all seeking to enjoy a healthier life. Suppose fragmentation is the wall that separates us from better access to care. In that case, health professionals in every ecosystem sector can be empowered to pursue their calling with passion and tear down that wall.

Looking for a villain in the health ecosystem, something lawmakers have been doing for the last several election cycles, may be suitable for campaigning but not for progress — not for continued innovation and patient care. Progress can only be achieved when we get past the mindset of the period in which we have been — the period of acknowledging the system is fragmented — and move into the post-fragmentation era, in which we view the system through the lens of health kinetics and eco-dynamics.

When we look at and understand how all parts of the system work together — or fail to –we enter an era in which we no longer debate who’s to blame. Proper understanding will allow us to compromise, adjust our aims, improve our practices, and finally, make changes that remove the health system as its own beneficiary, replacing it with the patient as the system’s customer.

[Special thanks to John Bianchi for his review of this health policy economics article that shifts the conversation from sector-to-sector blame to a forward-looking perspective; to industry friend and mentor John Nosta for encouraging me to put these thoughts into publication and to Dr. Dean and Anne Ornish, pioneers in preventive and consumer empowered health and co-founders of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine.]


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Gil Bashe, Medika Life Editor
Gil Bashe, Medika Life Editor
Health advocate connecting the dots to transform biopharma, digital health and healthcare innovation | Managing Partner, Chair Global Health FINN Partners | MM&M Top 50 Health Influencer | Top 10 Innovation Catalyst. Gil is Medika Life editor-in-chief and an author for the platform’s EcoHealth and Health Opinion and Policy sections. Gil also hosts the HealthcareNOW Radio show Healthunabashed, writes for Health Tech World, and is a member of the BeingWell team on Medium.


Editor in Chief, Medika Life

Meet the Medika Life editor-in-chief, working closely with founding editors Robert Turner and Jeff Livingston, MD.

Not your usual health-industry executive, Gil Bashe has had a unique career shaped by more than three decades in health policy, pharma, life science, digital health, eco-health, environmental innovation and venture capital and informed his determination to ‘give back.’

A champion for health innovation that sustains people’s lives and improves their care, Gil honed his perspectives on both battlefield and boardroom. He started in health as a combat medic in an elite military unit. He went on to serve as a clergyman tending to the ill; as a health products industry lobbyist in environmental affairs; as CEO of one of the world’s largest integrated health marketing companies; as a principal in a private equity-backed venture; as a Medika Life author and Health Tech World correspondent; and as Chair Global Health and Purpose at FINN Partners, a community of purpose dedicated to making a difference.

In the forefront of change, Gil is ranked as a Top 10 Digital Health Influencer; Medical Marketing & Media Top 10 Innovation Catalyst; Medika Life named him a “Top 50 Global Healthcare Influencer,” and PM360 presented him with its “Trailblazer Lifetime Achievement Award.” He is a board member for digital health companies and is an advisor to the CNS Summit, Galien Foundation, Let’s Win for Pancreatic Cancer, Marfan Foundation and other health-centered organizations.





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