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Pragmatic Priorities: Quality, Physicians, and Satisfaction

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media, February 10, 2009

Sure, maintaining a positive margin even as the global economy keeps hemorrhaging is any CEO's top priority right now. Outside the financial realm there are plenty of other concerns jockeying for the attention of health leaders. Surprisingly, through all of today's chaos, healthcare leaders appear to have their priorities straight.

Pragmatism is already shaping up to be the most overhyped word for 2009, but respondents from across the C-suite tell us in this year's HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey that they are as focused as ever on the key elements of patient-centered healthcare.

Just consider how leaders from as diverse subsets as CEOs, finance, technology, health plan, marketing, quality, and physician leaders identified their top priorities:

  • Quality/patient safety makes the top-three list of 69% of leaders
  • Physician retention and recruitment is next with 35%
  • And in third place is consumer satisfaction, which secures top-three votes of 26% of healthcare leaders

Among the oft-discussed challenges facing healthcare leaders that rank lower on the priority list are construction/capital improvements (24%), reimbursement (23%), cost reduction (21%), and revenue cycle (20%).

Leaders reinforce the importance of quality improvement initiatives, with 81% saying the trend will have a positive impact on the organization. And CEOs say they are making very strong (34%) or slightly strong (53%) progress with patient safety initiatives.

Healthcare marketing leaders also see that patient-centered shift coming. While just 30% say they routinely deal with patient experience and satisfaction now, that more than doubles to 65% who see that gaining in importance at their organization in the next three years. They also say that patient satisfaction surveys and physician rankings hold strong (39%) or very strong (30%) marketing potential.

More than 71% of quality leaders say that financial resources represent a major or moderate barrier to achieving quality healthcare for all patients at their organization. Right behind money come physician support (61%) and workplace culture (58%) as major or moderate barriers.

In addition to these barriers, a third (34%) of quality leaders say leadership support itself represents a major or moderate barrier to achieving quality healthcare. That is a sizeable minority, but it may be in line with the 31% of leaders who did not list quality/patient safety among their top three priorities.

Most quality leaders do have faith that leadership can effect change, though. Regarding quality programs that require staff to call attention to violations of quality guidelines and procedures, even if it's a person's superior, 8% of quality leaders say such programs will never work. But 85% say they will—if leadership sets the tone.

Now, the vast majority of respondents to this year's survey were U.S.-based healthcare executives, but I include their feedback here to drive home a key point. The old ways of the paternalistic healthcare organization are changing with lightening-quick speed. If you want to be in the business of developing relationships with loyal patients—and I think that you should—then you can't afford to deal with patients, physicians, or employees in the old way. The hospital building isn't the center of care, the physician isn't the center of care, and certainly the CEO isn't the center of care. It's all about creating a quality experience that makes the patient realize you know who is at the center of care.

And it is great to see that so many health leaders are getting it.


Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at rjohnson@healthleadersmedia.com.
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