Insights into ‘co-opetition’ in the health care system

Insights into ‘co-opetition’ in the health care system

There is an old saying that goes: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The idea of co-opetitionis one that seems to embody this insight.

Co-opetition combines cooperation and competition. It’s not an uncommon arrangement in many types of business. A simple example of co-opetition is when a group of restaurants on the main street of a town band together and place an advertisement in a local newspaper. Though they might be individually competing against one another, they also want to take a strategic approach to drive traffic to all of their restaurants together. 

So, how can co-opetition work in health care, which is a far more complex undertaking than promoting a group of restaurants? And what could its purpose be?

The article, “Could Health Plan Co-Opetition Boost Action on Social Determinants?” by Stuart Butler (Brookings Institution) and Len M. Nichols (Urban Institute), published in the American Journal of Public Health, points at some ways for health plans to strategically move forward working together in key areas.

“We’re all trying to articulate a mindset from, ‘competition is always the best way’ to ‘sometimes, collaboration can actually make competition more effective,’” Len said.

One of these crucial areas is data and infrastructure — for example, with referral systems to care and social services. These can often have large initial costs that become easier to bear across a multitude of organizations. Moreover, if you’re part of a community-based organization or nonprofit providing direct services, Stuart notes, it could be a real pain point to have to interact with referral systems for five or six different hospitals or managed care organizations.