Dr. James Peake

James Peake

Senior Vice President

Reflecting on my journey in the healthcare sector, from my years as a practitioner, through my tenures as Army Surgeon General and Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and now my time in industry with CGI, the healthcare landscape has witnessed seismic shifts impacting civilian and government systems and stakeholders.

Two decades ago, healthcare looked vastly different than it does today. Transformative investments, widespread adoption of digital technologies, electronic health records, and telemedicine have enhanced accessibility and patient care options. The growing emphasis on personalized medicine is being complimented by advances in medical research with more targeted and innovative treatment options. Social determinants of health are increasingly recognized for their impact on health and healthcare outcomes.

Yet, despite the opportunities these changes offer, I see familiar challenges that impact our commercial and federal healthcare ability to capitalize on them on behalf of our citizens. These recurrent challenges demand new thinking and a concerted effort towards innovative solutions.

Federal Healthcare’s Perpetual Challenges:

Financial Difficulties

The COVID pandemic was a watershed event that caused widespread financial strain across various systems, initially alleviated by subsidies that are now gone. Additionally, the inflation cycle has influenced costs, particularly in healthcare, where inflation rates, once flattened during the recession, have now surged beyond the core inflation trajectory. Labor costs remain elevated compared to pre-COVID levels, with a renewed emphasis on prioritizing health equity, albeit with associated expenses.

Health System Mergers

M&A in healthcare is again on the upswing.  As we have more vertical integration, we must be innovative in restructuring the components to better coordinate care for individuals, engage communities and social services, and reward quality measured by metrics that reflect the impact on the patient.

Recruiting and Retaining Staff

The struggle to meet the demand for healthcare workers is not new.  While some argue that this is not a pure numbers problem, all agree there is a mismatch between provider distribution and population need. 

Innovative technologies offer promising solutions in this regard. Leveraging telemedicine practices to extend expertise is one avenue. Moreover, artificial intelligence (AI) can streamline hiring processes, aiding in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Additionally, AI can contribute to fostering a fulfilling work environment by empowering providers to operate at their fullest potential. Generative AI can efficiently and ethically handle routine tasks. Notably, my colleague, Steve Sousa, recently penned a blog outlining the transformative impact of AI on healthcare.

Technology Utilization

The healthcare industry has traditionally been slow to embrace technological innovations. However, analysis of our Voice of the Client surveys indicates a noticeable shift in this trend. Yet, despite technological progress, realizing its full potential necessitates proactive business process re-engineering and aligning workflows with emerging capabilities alongside effective change management strategies. It's crucial to prioritize interoperability solutions, fortify cybersecurity measures, and ensure that IT investments align with federal objectives. Creating a regulatory framework conducive to innovation and implementing best practices in health service delivery are additional challenges agencies face in this evolving landscape.

The federal healthcare sector encounters challenges similar to those of the commercial healthcare industry but possesses the potential to exemplify the best practices in integrated delivery systems. With its access to industry partners, the government can lead by example in innovatively utilizing integrated data, responsibly applying AI, optimizing taxpayer funds, and assessing the impact on diverse beneficiary populations, including veterans, active/retired military personnel and their families, as well as unique demographics such as Native Americans and the incarcerated.

I recommend looking at the big picture to find real opportunities to streamline business processes, start small by identifying key areas and applying small initiatives that show value and then scale fast for sustained value creation. The regulatory environment comes from Congress and our Federal regulatory agencies.  It is an industry in the health ecosystem that implements these regulations.   

About this author

Dr. James Peake

James Peake

Senior Vice President

Dr. James Peake, M. D. , former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Army Surgeon General, is a senior vice president at CGI Federal overseeing the company’s health care programs.