Do New Executive Healthcare Roles Make Sense?

July 2, 2019
Nicholas Hamm

MHE Publication, Managed Healthcare Executive July 2019 Issue, Volume 29, Issue 7

With the push to value-based care, C-suites are adding new roles to foster innovation. What are those new roles, and are they working?

As healthcare moves toward an increasingly consumer-focused, value-driven future, many healthcare organizations are struggling to keep up with the latest models and trends.

To help combat this, healthcare organizations across the country are expanding their leadership roles with new positions designed to drive the much-needed innovation in an industry that famously struggles with it.

Leaders in those roles say they are providing a way forward for the industry, but some wonder if those roles shouldn’t be left in more traditional C-suite positions.

Innovation officer

Michelle Histand is director of innovation at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. There, she says that she and her team are tasked with coming up with new ideas and solutions to problems facing their business areas.

“I oversee a group of people who use design thinking and other creative-problem-solving methodologies to help our business areas and our customers do just that-creatively problem solve!” Histand says. “We are essentially a team of creative consultants. We work with groups to understand their opportunities and what success would look like and develop interventions to help get them there using our tools.”

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She says that her role is mainly about getting people out of their comfort zones and familiar routines. Innovation, she stresses, requires taking a fresh look at how things have always been done.

In practice, Histand says, it involves “a ton of critical thinking-I say we are able to take a mess and make sense of it. We also do a lot of relationship building-we have to make people feel comfortable doing things that are uncomfortable-because innovation can feel strange!”

For organizations interested in adding this type of position, Histand stresses that it’s important to hire someone who is action-oriented and is able to thrive in new situations.

“This type of position or team is expected to do things differently,” Histand says. “I follow the mantra of ask for forgiveness, not permission. It’s important that this position be situated accordingly in the org. I’m under a leader who appreciates what we need to do and gives me all the backing I need to get it done.”

However, Stewart Schaffer, co-Founder and managing partner at CSuite Solutions, a national healthcare advisory firm says the innovation officer role should be something that every executive should be a part of.

“The CEO of a health system should require that every single department head be responsible for innovation within his/her function,” Schaffer says. “It should be part of the cultural DNA of every enterprise and curated/managed as part of each department’s innovation plan referred to as a strategic plan by most large industries.”

He adds that the chief strategy officer should then be the one to help organize and integrate individual department plans.

“Once you go the innovation officer route (who will no doubt have a department of people under him or her adding more layers of overhead),” he says, “you disenfranchise or relieve the operating units of what should be one of their key responsibility to the organization which is to continually improve through innovation.”

As for Histand, she says her position adds value because it encourages outside thinking to permeate every team in an organization. “We have become to the go-to team when something needs fixing or needs to be injected with new thinking-and that’s critical for every kind of organization,” she says. “We all fall into habits in our lives, and that includes our working lives-having an ‘outsider’ be able to see something from a new perspective and pushing your teams to see it from a new perspective, is very valuable.”

Population health officer

As healthcare becomes more consumer focused-and as it becomes increasingly complex-population health executives offer organizations a chance to coordinate the complexity of care more personally for every patient.

Adam Myers, MD, is chief of population health and director of the Cleveland Clinic Community Care at the Cleveland Clinic. He says that his position was created was created to provide excellent for care for all patients.

“Several years ago, clinic leadership wisely decided to promote the same excellence for the care that most patients need,” Myers says. “Primary care at all points across the continuum.”

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The Cleveland Clinic Community Care combines multiple units from across Cleveland Clinic into one unit and includes everything from general internal medicine to family medicine, preventative medicine, post-acute programs, and many others.

“The goal is to bring the same level of expertise that the clinic is known for in specialty care to primary care, hospital medicine, and population health,” says Myers.

In practice, Myers says, that approach involves applying “data-driven comprehensive team approach to the clinical needs of patients in our communities who already trust us; and, [partnering] with others to address the social determinants of health impacting the full populations in those communities. We also seek to influence the international policy dialogue in pursuit of the quadruple aim.”

Schaffer again finds issue with how some organizations are adopting the policy. While he admits that “the requirement that providers move from fee-for-service to value-based care is an existential mandate that is required to be successful in healthcare over the next few transition years,” he says that the position should be within the domain of a chief strategy officer.

“Rather than create a new department of population health,” Schaffer says, “this function should reside within every operating department and driven by the department head the same as innovation. In fact, population health is only one (albeit a major one) swim lane of an enterprise strategic plan which should be the domain of the chief strategy officer. Unfortunately, facilities planning seems to take up most of the bandwidth of health system strategy departments which impedes their ability to take on what I believe is the more important responsibility of implementing population health.”

He says that unnecessary siloing doesn’t allow the strategy department to have the resources to facilitate and coordinate innovation, population health, and facilities planning. He adds that facilities planning, which is often separate from population health and innovation, should be integrated into planning for them.

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Myers stresses that his position’s contribution to the organization is to fulfill the needed role of a connector. “My goal and mission,” he says, “are to connect primary and specialty care, fee for service and value-based care, the community to the clinic, and people to better health. People with this focus and skill set are uniquely equipped to promote and fulfill the strategies needed for health care systems to survive and thrive in the changing world of healthcare.”

What organizations should consider adding the position? “Health systems that are grappling with performance in value-based payment arrangements, are looking to expand their primary care footprint, are looking to better integrate all sites of care, and seek to create productive community relationships would do well to add and support a Chief of Population Health.”

Overall, Myers says, “This position is exciting because I get to lead an amazing group of exceedingly capable people focused on doing good.”

Nicholas Hamm is an editor with Managed Healthcare Executive

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