The Forum

What the hospital 'chief executive of the future' looks like

Global Intelligence Unit

by Vidal Seegobin

For years, many hospital chief executives were able to run their organisations by using the same time-worn strategies and protocols. But to be a successful hospital chief executive today, leaders must master a series of new skills, claims Howard Larkin in Hospitals & Health Networks, a leading publication for hospital leaders. 

"The [chief executive] of the future will be someone who understands the continuum of care...", says a health care executive recruiter in the story, "and is capable of bundling it all around providing excellent service at reduced cost."

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Who is the CEO of the future?

According to the story, "ideal" chief executives have several key characteristics that will position them to succeed:

1. They do not fight change and always strive to learn: Leaders who have previously worked to implement new care models or technology are more likely to thrive in today's shifting health care landscape and keep hospital finances afloat during uncertain economic times.

In addition, such leaders must have "imagination and flexible thinking", says the president of one health care consultancy. They also should not be afraid to reorganise management teams or make other difficult decisions, a current hospital chief executive notes. And good leaders must be open to learning in any situation and quickly adapt. "You need someone who can take a new concept and run with it", the recruiter adds.

2. They use data to drive results: Health care data mining is becoming more important as providers use analytics to evaluate care quality and determine contracting and purchasing decisions. As such, chief executives must know how to read and analyse this information so they can make sound financial decisions, develop and communicate strategy change, and help others get on board, says a health care policy firm's managing director.

3. They are clinically competent: As coordinated care becomes the norm, the ideal chief executive must be able to understand clinical operations to identify and address potential "gaps in the system", Larkin writes. But, he says, a doctor background is not always necessary. If the chief executive does not have this clinical experience, he or she should convene a leadership team that fully understands the concept and can help develop a program that supports the system's strategies.

4. They are financially focused: A chief executive must have a firm grasp on the various financial facets of their system—such as payment models and payment reforms—and should understand how they could affect the system's ability to build an integrated network, says one strategy expert, who adds that varying payment models have "strategic and operational implications that can't just be left to the [chief financial officer]. It takes a team."

5. They are skilled at resolving conflict: Leonard Marcus, founding director of the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says resolving issues as they come up and identifying ways everyone's common interests can be met effectively are important skills for chief executives to have. Such leaders "can see the value of being part of the enterprise, and are able to guide and motivate activity toward being part of that value", he says.

6. They do not shy away from collaboration: Chief executives should also understand how to work collaboratively—in a "matrix management" style—with peers and in reporting relationships to system experts. "Hospitals have always been vertically organised into departments: cardiology, radiology, pathology", points out one expert, but "now that hospitals are becoming health systems," they should work to create "horizontal structures" too (Larkin, Hospitals & Health Networks, 6/9; Small, FierceHealthcare, 6/10).


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