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Healthcare 101 dos and don'ts

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

A State of Healthcare keynote-style presentation is not a good fit for new healthcare learners—and a basic healthcare 101 might not be great either. Instead, consider a ‘market context for our organization’ (and not the solution I drafted first)

Among healthcare organizations, there is bottomless demand for introductory, ‘general landscape of healthcare’ sessions for new-to-healthcare learners. This happens because boards are always adding new members, colleagues are joining from unrelated industries, and clinicians are stepping into general management roles.

Procuring, or delivering, an effective general healthcare orientation session for leaders is harder than it seems, because of challenges related to both content and learners.

An illustrative failure story

To help guide the way to what I (now) think is the most productive approach for many healthcare overview-type sessions, today I want to share a story about a recent design challenge we took on for a Union client. It features a failed draft— because I love failure stories, and I don’t mind being the subject of them. and because the experience highlighted a set of critical principles that will benefit anyone on the hook for providing this kind of session.

The seeming fork in the educational road

The story begins with a digital behavioral-health company that approached Union to anchor a career development day for 300+ staff. This request set into motion a familiar type of intake meeting, which we knew would start by confronting a choice: should we recommend some version of our annual State of Healthcare (SOH) report? Or a ‘healthcare 101’?

  • Our annual State of Healthcare (SOH) report is at the core of what we do, and does many jobs well—especially for more senior, and more experienced-in-healthcare, executive audiences. But the SOH cannot do every job, and one of the ones it isn’t right for is to provide an educational experience for people who are relatively new to healthcare. The SOH assumes a lot of background knowledge about the industry; thus it tends to overwhelm low-information learners.

  • A "Healthcare 101" might seem better for new learners. But that type of presentation—at least, in its most common form—comes with its own challenges. Not only will it severely bore any higher-information audience members in the mix, even for new learners, it can feel too elementary. It risks feeling too frozen in time—missing important context about how key principles and structure play out in today’s market. And at the end of the day, it can be hard to connect truly elementary information to the current set of challenges/opportunities faced by a real-world healthcare organization. It’s like stepping onto the very bottom step of a tall staircase. It’s not that difficult to do, but does it really get you where you need to go?

Could there be a third option? Good news: Yes. Bad news: I had to find it the hard way

Understanding the drawbacks of both approaches given the audience at hand, the optimist in me (which is most of me) always thinks, there must be a way to avoid choosing between them, and instead to try to marry them together. The perennial question is how.

This time around, I had a shiny new idea. I began to think, “What if we could take Union’s State of Healthcare (SOH) presentation and make a TEACHING VERSION of it?”

An SOH-style keynote that would cover all the major market trends and be accessible to new learners? I had to try.

Reality check: A ‘teaching version’ of the SOH is not a feasible idea, because of the iron triangle of education

For the ‘teaching version’ draft of the SOH, I started by adding contextual teaching to each top market development so that new learners would be able to access the picture. That part was straightforward and worked well enough.

But putting a ‘ramp’ in front of each major trend quickly made the presentation massive. The only way to cover all the major current developments in teaching detail would be if we were planning to be there all day. Which we weren’t. So it seemed I would have to pick a very small handful of trends to cover. I did try it that way, but the total result felt arbitrarily narrow.

Bottom line: I realized a ‘teaching version’ of the State of Healthcare report could not work. I had forgotten the educational iron triangle: Scope, depth, and time.

A better way for new learners—one that actually works

After a mind-clearing walk, and a little thought partnership with my cherished Union colleagues, it became obvious that the side of the triangle that would have to give would be scope, but not in the way I had already tried.

For new learners, there is no ‘give’ on depth of contextual information—it is a must-have. The time dimension also cannot give—90 minutes is what most organizations (and humans) have, on average, to devote to a general market education session in the course of a busy week.

To narrow the scope without focusing on a small number of ‘top’ general-interest trends which, as stated above, made something that feel arbitrary and narrow, the answer was as follows. Don’t try to ‘101’ all of healthcare. Focus on the part your specific organization is operating in.

Get comfortable with leaving things out (for now)

To narrow in on a healthcare sub-market in a stand-alone session, one must have the discipline to jettison, or at least minimize, many of the compelling-to-us trends of our day (what about expensive immunotherapies! The crisis in the nursing workforce! The rise of vertical ecosystems!). It hurts to cut airtime from hypnotic (and important!) market features, but if they are tangential to the sub-market, well, they just have to wait for another time.

This insight freed me up to make something that was neither a ‘healthcare 101’ nor a state of healthcare presentation—and certainly not a ‘teaching version’ of the SOH. Instead, it was an ‘exploration of the market context for Company X’.

Anatomy of a presentation focusing on 'your healthcare market context'

The final version had a ‘follow the money’ structure, that began by explaining healthcare purchasers and their priorities, and flowed down through insurers, payment structures, and reimbursement/investment patterns, relevant tech and policy developments, and so on, to connect directly to the part of the healthcare market that this organization, specifically, operated in.

In the case of behavioral health, explaining payment structure naturally led to covering historical highs and lows of resourcing across different service types—which set context for the network adequacy problems that have plagued outpatient behavioral health (and that this particular client company was in a position to help mitigate).

To keep the session newsy, and engage higher-information members of the audience, we emphasized recent-development trends and case studies that fit within this topic-scope box. For example, when talking about payment structures, we shared (and ended up receiving the most audience questions on) information on the Walmart bundled payment program, the uneven adoption of value-based care, and office-based physician reimbursement trends and alignment models.

In closing: Remember these five principles of general healthcare education for executives

Luckily for all involved, we had enough timeline to take this detour and still achieve an on-time delivery of what the client actually needed. The client was happy, and I walked away thinking, ‘This is a thing that many different healthcare organizations could use a version of’.’

Taking a step back, the experience also reinforced for me five pieces of general advice I would offer anyone whose job it is to provide healthcare market/strategic education for colleagues. I mean, other than “don’t just let learners wander around on the internet” and also, “check to make sure there is no hidden agenda, whether philosophical or commercial.”

Five Principles of General Healthcare Education for Executives

#1 Your options aren’t only HC101 or ‘state of healthcare; instead, consider ‘The market context for what we do.’ The ‘state of healthcare’ may overwhelm, and a traditional HC101 may be too academic and/or too general. Instead, consider a ‘follow the money’ approach that emphasizes contextual information (economics, policy, tech developments, consumer demand patterns, and competitive landscape) for your organization’s sector/service focus.

#2 90 minutes is the magical time limit. About 45 minutes of teaching, about 45 minutes of discussion (continuously throughout). Less than that is not going to cut it. More than that, the audience is going to tune out even the most pertinent information.

#3 Make it a series. People can only take 90 minutes of education at a time—but that doesn’t mean learners must sink or swim in the vast sea of healthcare market information after that first session is done. Consider a curriculum that systematically presents common strategy topics one at a time—such as our Strategy Bootcamp, which gives 90 minutes to providers, 90 minutes to payers, 90 minutes to telemedicine, pharmacy, innovation, value-based payment…and so on.

#4 Make the goal ‘becoming conversant' and not mastery. Learners need to understand the general landscape, issues of the day, and key terms and players (see again our Strategy Bootcamp). They don’t need to be experts in everything, but they do need to see pitfalls of ignorance they could realistically fall into. Credibility, not expertise, should be the net result.

#5 Ensure all material is freshly updated, with current examples and trends within the context of this particular session. Don’t let your ‘101’ on any topic be an evergreen, textbook-type resource that is separate from the news of the day. News of the day is as essential for new learners as it is for experienced executives—it just isn’t sufficient (or accessible enough) in standard keynote format. It needs to be leveled correctly and clearly connected to the main content being taught in order to address learners’ immediate needs.

About Union

Union Healthcare Insight is a researcher-founded healthcare research and insight company. We have a passion for understanding the healthcare market environment—and helping others understand it too. Take a look at our 2023 State of Healthcare Report or ask about our Strategy Bootcamp Series.. Contact us at


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