Imagine a business leader. Did you envision a physician? Probably not. Doctors are experts in their chosen medical field but aren't conventionally thought of as possessing management leadership skills.
But that has been changing, and among the positive results of this shift are better patient outcomes.
Noted universities and internal hospital programs—like ours at the Cleveland Clinic—now have programs to develop physician leaders. This push is spurred by healthcare transformations, including the need to improve quality of care, access to care and unsustainable costs. And the best way to instill this capability is to nurture high-performing teams led by physicians steeped in business skills.
We are making progress, but it's not easy. Focusing on a leadership mindset and skill set in physicians is radically different from traditional training methods. Today, we're asking physicians to lead collaborative care teams organized holistically around a patient's needs; plus, we need to be transparent in publicly sharing patient-care performance. Thus, we expect physicians to lead change, foster teamwork and encourage personal development—while maintaining enormous clinical responsibilities.
So dipping into the business management bag of tricks makes sense. But we must redouble our efforts to leverage business principles to transform U.S. healthcare. Demographic shifts and the incredible acceleration of medical knowledge, data analytics and technology continue to drive healthcare spending toward 20% of GDP. The rise in mortality from chronic diseases like Alzheimer's adds to the burden. Together, these challenges present the greatest opportunity for physician leadership in the history of medicine.
But how best to optimize this process? In my experience, physicians are best-equipped to engender better healthcare by adopting four guiding rules that will foster their own leadership development:
Innovation. Physician leaders must not only embrace change, they must fuel it by implementing creative solutions for efficient, effective care. Only by embracing a culture of innovation—and leadership by example—will they make it happen.
Our medical culture must encourage and reward physicians to conceive and lead change, just as our business brethren do. I have seen it work at Cleveland Clinic, which cultivates an entrepreneurial culture by expecting physicians to innovate. When innovation is included in performance metrics, physicians won't react to change—they will spearhead it.
Patient advocacy. Physicians must improve how we advocate for patients and communities to improve health. With changes in payment models, providers are bearing more risk for patient and community health outcomes. This requires innovative physician leadership, as well as collaboration with all partners in the healthcare ecosystem, including retail clinics, nursing homes, government agencies and social advocates.
Advances in technology and predictive analytics certainly play a role. But the human touch of caregivers will bring real progress to ameliorate environmental and socio-economic factors affecting health. Creative solutions are bolstering access to care, harnessing community resources and improving patients' well-being and rigor in self-managing their health.
Listening. Our patients are a terrific source of good advice on how to solve problems. Carefully listening to patients can re-orient healthcare goals to achieve superior clinical outcomes defined by patients, not by hospitals and government.
Physicians must initiate this transformation by asking patients a very simple question: “How are you?” Listening closely to the answer reveals the deepest insights.
Urgency. Physicians must act now to achieve a future of historic change—higher quality, better safety, and more affordable and valuable care. I believe that physicians are up to this task. Imagine the transformative progress we could make if all physicians were leading urgently to redefine U.S. healthcare.
The most powerful healthcare leaders are not the executives of hospitals, corporations, government agencies or politicians. They are every physician sitting across from an equally all-powerful force: the patient. By embracing the tenets of business management, physicians can—and must—lead the way to a brighter healthcare future.