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3 Thoughts on Proactive Leadership in Healthcare

Analysis  |  By Steven Porter  
   November 09, 2018

Executives taking part in the HealthLeaders CEO Exchange offered their insights on the biggest challenges and opportunities facing healthcare today.

About 40 executives from healthcare organizations across the country convened in Santa Barbara, California, this week for the annual HealthLeaders CEO Exchange, where they have discussed what they and their peers can do to surmount the industry's most vexing challenges.

Their wide-ranging conversations, which began Thursday and will continue Friday, have unpacked the new and developing definitions of "market share," mulled the perils and opportunities presented by potential partnerships, compared notes on driving clinical efficiency, and more.

Here are just a few of their insights from Day 1:

1. Your window for proactivity is closing.

Gone are the days when a health system could afford to evolve gradually over the course of several decades before emerging surefooted as a leader in providing high-quality care at a reasonable cost, said Mark L. Wagar, president of Heritage Medical Systems in Palm Springs, California. The imperative to innovate has grown far more urgent, he said.

"We all have to do this in the next five to 10 years, quickly," Wagar said during a roundtable discussion Thursday with fellow healthcare executives, noting that outside competitors and the federal government alike have made no secret of their plans to make healthcare more cost-effective one way or another.

"In the absence of provider-driven solutions, they'll implement their own," Wagar said.

This threat of disruption is precisely why leaders must take the initiative to upend their own status quo, said Terri Kline, MPH, president and CEO of Health Alliance Plan in Detroit.

"It's so hard to disrupt yourself, but that's what we need to do in order to stay viable," Kline said.

2. You must contemplate cost as a threat.

Efforts to make healthcare more affordable aren't just part of the industry's perpetual push for self-improvement. They have become central to an organization's survival, Kline said.

"I think the cost of care is actually the biggest threat to an enterprise. It's often not thought of that way," she said, "but patients can't afford the cost of care."

Russell M. Howerton, MD, FACS, senior vice president of Wake Forest Health Network and system chief medical officer, framed the cost-of-care conundrum as an existential question: "If the majority of your customers can't afford your services, are you really a business?"

Regardless of which cost-limiting tactics your organization pursues, it's vital that leaders thoroughly engage with physicians on the topic, said John Phillips, FACHE, president of Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

"The misalignment between the medical staff and the hospital is both a problem and an opportunity," Phillips added.

3. Match your services to market needs.

Several members taking part in the CEO Exchange outlined how they have sought to achieve their mission of serving a given population by developing targeted service lines and jettisoning those that are either not profitable or not a center of excellence.

"In the competitive Chicago market, how do we differentiate ourselves? What are trends? What's happening with payers? What are the population needs here?" said James Robinson, president of Presence St. Joseph Hospital. "And then we look at our service lines to determine where we should specialize versus areas in which we're becoming irrelevant and taking a hard look at ourselves. If we are not the leader, then where should we be investing our resources more effectively?"

Kurt A. Barwis, FACHE, president and CEO of Bristol Hospital and Health Care Group in Bristol, Connecticut, said once his organization completes its community-needs and supply-and-demand assessments to settle on a course of action, the team invests aggressively.

"It takes a trusting and engaged culture to achieve this," Barwis said. "We need to create a culture that's very entrepreneurial and looking for the next thing, and that takes working with your team and giving feedback to everyone in your organization."

Editor's note: Julie Auton and Amanda Czepiel contributed to this report.

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


Leaders must take the initiative to upend the status quo of their own organizations.

Controlling costs should now be seen as central to an organization's viability.

Making investments to meet a market's needs requires a culture of trust and engagement.

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