Breaking Down Silo Thinking
Individual Perspectives
by Lalaina Rabary

When Sean Parker, billionaire founding president of Facebook, announced he had brought together six major cancer research centers to work on a cure, the research community was in disbelief. How would he get the independent academic and competitive biotech company researchers to work together toward a common goal at his Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI)?

“Never before would I think you could get all these institutions to sign the exact same document,” said PICI oncologist Carl June. But that’s exactly what happened. One reason researchers such as June were surprised is that silo thinking—focusing inward while resisting sharing information and resources—is quite typical in health care research. Parker’s strategy for breaking down existing silos in cancer research sends two critical messages to the health care community: removing silos is possible and silos are worth busting down.

Why Do Silos Exist?

With all the talk of integrated health care and better patient outcomes, it is baffling that various health care sectors—acute, rehab, long-term care, skilled nursing, HME—are still hesitant to work together. A couple of factors influence this attitude.

  1. Desire to be first. Although technology and resources have increased, Parker blames “dysfunctional human systems” for being the inhibitor of progress. Despite best intentions, the competitive nature of being first can get in the way of collaboration. What matters more—being the first to come up with an idea or being part of the team that created a sustainable solution that benefits many?
  2. Lack of unified vision. At its most basic level, everyone in health care has the same essential goal: serving the patient. But everything from constantly shifting health care regulations to narrowing profit margins and a shrinking applicant pool can get in the way of the common goal.
  3. Notion of “getting our piece of the pie.” There is a general idea that there are only so many health care dollars to go around, so businesses must get their piece of it.

Problems + Solutions

The attitudes listed above cause many issues. Among them, unsolved challenges. When various health care sectors resist collaborating, new ways of thinking and cross-functional solutions don’t happen. Another issue is wasted resources: the lack of information flow caused by silos leads to inefficiency and waste. For example, why should 12 individual HME providers schedule meetings with the same legislator to discuss one issue when 12 could come together, unite on the message and share the cost of sending a smaller delegation? Third, stalled innovation occurs, meaning that when health care sectors have little contact with each other, it becomes easy to accept the status quo.

The best way HME providers can overcome silo thinking is by thinking outside the box when it comes to expanding networks. Seek regional startup communities of entrepreneurs, search LinkedIn for online health provider communities and ask referral sources about groups you may benefit from joining. Parker’s millions will no doubt have a profound impact on the willingness of cancer researchers to work together. However, the true weapons in his battle—collaboration and information sharing—cost nothing.