Prescription for Change

What does the CMO role look like today?

by Elizabeth Trandel

When we polled chief medical officers in 2012, we found them increasingly turning their attention to new strategies like clinical standardization and population health.

Since then, a lot has changed in the health care landscape—organizations are growing their footprint, solidifying physician alignment, and taking on more financial risk for outcomes—and the CMO role has only become more important. In fact, health care CEOs ranked engaging physicians in reducing clinical variation—which is fundamentally a CMO responsibility—as their top priority for 2016.

Given these changes, we asked CMOs to provide an update on their roles in the 2016 CMO Role Survey—and 116 of them did. We’ll be presenting the complete survey findings at the Chief Clinical Executive Summit in October, but read on for a few key takeaways.

1. There is a boom of physician leadership at the system level

Over the past few years, more and more organizations have focused on an M&A strategy, creating increasingly expansive health systems. Our survey demographics largely mirror this trend, with 88% of respondents working in multi-hospital health systems. Within those systems, system-wide physician leadership has become the norm: nearly all have a system CMO, and more than half have a system CQO who is a physician. As systems seek to leverage their “systemness” for a competitive advantage, many are turning to these system physician leaders to figure out how to realize a consistently high level of care across all entities.

2. New CMOs face a steep learning curve

Today, the skills CMOs feel most confident in when entering the role are clinical expertise and personal relationships with physicians. These do not align with the skills CMOs believe are most critical for success—the ability to influence others and change management.

It is perhaps this skill gap that has led organizations to invest over $100,000 annually on physician leadership development to upskill up-and-coming physicians. Additionally, embracing steep learning curves has always been a part of being a physician, and has not led to a shake-up in CMO confidence. 95% of CMOs are confident they will hit their annual goals.

3. CMOs aren't spending time on what they define as most strategically important

In 2012, we learned that 86% of CMOs wanted to offload some of their responsibilities—primarily medical staff tasks—to other leaders. Four years later, CMOs are still spending their time there, likely at the expense of more strategically important responsibilities. The most successful CMOs will determine how to preserve bandwidth for top priorities.

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