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Top five skills every health care CEO needs

October 09, 2014
Bruce Johnson
From the October 2014 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Bruce Johnson

Today’s hospital CEO is faced with some of the most acute challenges to the health of provider organizations than at any time in the history of modern health care. Based on my conversations with many of these leaders, and according to research done by the American College of Healthcare Executives, an international healthcare organization representing more than 40,000 such executives, their number one concern is financial challenges followed by health care reform implementation and new government mandates for patient safety and quality.

Not surprising given those challenges, the tenure of most hospital CEOs is less than three and a half years. The skills needed to successfully lead today’s provider organization extend beyond financial acumen, health care expertise and management competency. The nuanced nature of health care requires the diplomacy of a head of state with the strategic ability to manage one of the most complex systems in business today.

In light of this health care reality, and as a fellow CEO, the following skills are those that I am finding to be the most important in helping my organization succeed today.

1. Learn your organizational levers
The hospital environment is made up of numerous business processes. Each process is an opportunity to impact one, if not all, of the three critical concerns of CEOs. CEOs need the skill of learning which business processes are also the key business levers impacting financial health, reform implementation and quality patient care. The supply chain provides a wealth of such information. Knowing where the supply chain impacts all three and utilizing the data available can reveal these levers — levers that connect supply chain to revenue and to patient safety.

2. Data-driven decision making is critical
Instinct, experience, intuition are all valuable, but nothing trumps solid data that informs decision making, regardless of whether it’s operational or clinical. Value and the financial incentives in health care are a function of quality, efficiency, safety and cost and each of these are backed by a series of data sets to inform decision making. With the changing demands from reform implementation, it’s not as easy as it sounds. For instance, identifying ways to leverage data from the hospital’s EMR investment as well as capturing data within operating rooms,can be critical path to decision making.

3. Communicate to inform and elevate
With health care reform has come reduced reimbursements as well as a host of other additions and subtractions from the way care is managed at most hospitals. Significant change usually means organizational strain. The uncertainty inherent in the current health care environment affords leaders an opportunity to both inform and elevate those who are critical to the success of the organizational mission. It’s going to take the entire organization pulling in the same direction to navigate the changes facing health care.

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