Intermountain Healthcare: Constant Growth in the Medical World

By Andrew Lake

Whether evolving internally or propelling the medical world forward, Intermountain Healthcare is a company that’s accustomed to change. Originally owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Church decided in 1975 that owning hospitals was not a key part of its goals, so it separated the 15 hospitals it owned at the time to create an independent, non-profit, secular organization known as Intermountain Healthcare.

According to Jess Gomez, director of Media Relations for Intermountain and chief spokesperson for the Intermountain Central Region, the company has since grown to 22 hospitals—as far north as Pocatello, Idaho and as far south as St. George, Utah—employing over 33,000 people, and even offering its own health insurance.

Aside from its size, what sets Intermountain apart? “Several things,” says Gomez. “We’re not satisfied with being very good. We want to be the best.” One of the most important ways they accomplish this is through their use of evidence-based medicine: examining all possible treatments of each illness or injury and choosing the best one to be used throughout the organization. Gomez describes it as an entirely data-driven decision making process and says that, as a result, Intermountain as a whole is a data-driven organization.

After making a decision for how to treat any condition, however, that decision is by no means set in stone. Intermountain is continually learning, sharing, and collaborating Gomez says. It is open to adopting all new practices that prove themselves through the same process by which the original decision was made.

Another thing that sets Intermountain apart is its state of the art technology and information systems. All of the protocols for the company are integrated into their computers, so that as doctors and nurses input patient information, they will be prompted on further questions to ask and reminded of the proper treatment. However, clinicians are still able to override the system’s suggestions so that ultimately the doctor is making the decision he or she feels will produce the best results.

All of this strongly relates to Intermountain’s old mission, which was to provide the very best care. Several years ago, however, the mission statement was changed which resulted in several new developments for the company. The new mission is “helping people live the healthiest lives possible.” As Gomez describes it, “[The old mission] was looking at how to best help patients when they were in the hospital, when they needed care. Now, we help them to avoid needing the hospital.” This means providing information, resources, and programs for individuals with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or arthritis, so that they can better manage their symptoms through lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Intermountain also has programs focusing on broader safety issues, such as wearing a helmet when riding a bike, no matter your age.

Another program that falls under the new mission is LiVe Well: a program that Intermountain uses both externally with the public and internally with its employees to encourage small choices people can incorporate into daily life, like parking farther out in parking lots, taking 10,000 steps every day, drinking enough water, and reducing stress.

In addition to LiVe Well, Intermountain gets involved in local communities by hosting 5Ks and marathons, running classes to help people get started with various forms of physical activity, working with organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation, and even sponsoring local sports teams, such as Murray High Baseball.

Even with successful programs like these in place, no company is without its challenges. The primary challenge Intermountain faces now, according to Gomez, is the economics of healthcare. Not only is it an expensive field to begin with; the Affordable Care Act has added several considerations and challenges to hospitals and health insurance companies, both of which are a part of Intermountain Healthcare. One of these problems is that those who did not previously have health insurance have been sicker and more expensive to treat than the government predicted and provided funds for and the insurance companies have been left responsible for the additional costs. This has led some companies to opt out of the healthcare exchanges set up by the act and, while Intermountain does not plan on opting out, it is necessary for them to find a way to provide the additional funds they hadn’t planned for.

Despite these challenges, Intermountain’s future looks bright. The company is building a new hospital in Layton, and it has a new program called Connect Care which allows people to connect with physicians online to get remote consultation. It is also building a new “transformation center” at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, which will be a place of “constant innovation,” according to Gomez. The goal is to transform healthcare by bringing together scientists and researchers with healthcare leaders. If successful, Intermountain will prove itself as a valuable asset not only to Utah residents, but to the world at large.