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Healthcare CEOs Focusing on the Now

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, February 12, 2010

Here's a statement that should get your attention: CEOs are less concerned about quality and patient safety this year than last year. Actually, that broad conclusion is tough to draw from the data contained in the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2010, which went live on our site yesterday. But what's clear is that long-term goals are dropping in importance in favor of initiatives that can bring near-immediate returns.

Without a doubt, CEOs are spending more of their intellectual capital this year on patient experience/satisfaction as well as cost reduction, according to the survey.

CEOs, obviously, drive their organizations, so what they say about their priorities carries a lot of weight. We actually asked CEOs to rank their top three priorities for the next three years, and what came back showed us that CEOs, perhaps in light of the turbulent economic times, are trimming back the importance they give to quality and patient safety (only 39.5% selected it this year, compared with 69% in 2009) while patient experience/satisfaction (33.98% vs. 25%) as well as cost reduction (35.36% vs. 19%) recorded big increases.

Interestingly, physician recruitment and retention dropped from 43% in 2009 to 35.36% for 2010. So what conclusions can we draw from this data? Perhaps CEOs feel like after years of concentration, their quality levels don't need as much attention. Perhaps more of them have achieved their short- and medium-term goals with physician recruitment.

But in the bigger picture, quality still leads the herd, and physician recruitment isn't far behind. They just have much less of a commanding lead than they did before. I think some areas simply have improved so much that they aren't highest priority anymore, at least at the top levels of the organization. That certainly seems true for revenue cycle, for example, which only 7.73% of CEOs ranked as among their top three priorities for 2010, compared with 23% in 2009.

But I think there's something else at work here. Short-term thinking has invaded the decisions emanating from the C-suite.

On first glance, that seems myopic. But it's not necessarily a bad thing: Sometimes a crisis requires you to dramatically shift your priorities, and if 2009 wasn't a crisis year with the recession and healthcare reform looming on the horizon, I don't know what would qualify. For example, physician recruitment is a long-term investment in a single human being. Improving quality also takes time, and while it generates an ROI, its ROI doesn't flow directly to the bottom line.

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