It’s no secret the U.S. healthcare system is quickly evolving amid forces such as policy shifts; consolidation among healthcare systems, drug retailers and payers; inequality in access; and rising drug prices. Today healthcare spending is nearing 18% of gross domestic product, an unsustainable figure.
Amid these challenges, it’s evident we need strong physician leaders guiding the course of healthcare’s evolution while maintaining a focus on the Triple Aim of reducing cost, improving population health and creating a better patient experience. Yet, even as focus expands to a quadruple aim addressing important issues around clinician satisfaction, the industry is only partially developing our physician leaders.
Fortunately, today’s medical groups are uniquely positioned to help develop the well-rounded physician leaders who can address the challenges facing patients and the system at the same time.
Delivering healthcare requires providers to make decisions quickly and decisively. While physicians are trained to become confident diagnosticians and skilled problem-solvers, this background can also make working in a team environment challenging, something at which leaders in the business world often seem more adept.
This gap in the skill sets between business leaders and physician leaders deserves more attention. We must focus on the foundational elements of how physicians are taught and encourage them to adopt skills similar to business leaders. Without fostering new and innovative types of professional growth for physicians, the healthcare system will continue to fall short.
The Sequoia Fellowship is one model of how our nation’s future leaders could be trained. The fellowship, created by DaVita Medical Group, now part of Optum, is an intensive cohort program aimed at developing leadership skills in high-potential physicians while debating real-world challenges facing healthcare. Through experiential learning in a high feedback environment, such a forum builds the skill sets needed to succeed in today’s value-based care models.
The yearlong program culminates in capstone projects that address issues of reducing cost, improving outcomes and creating a better patient experience—in local regions and across the enterprise. For example, one project developed a playbook for assessing the financial and contractual conditions for conducting elective joint replacements and cardiac implants at ambulatory surgery centers while ensuring quality outcomes. The project achieved savings for the health system of as much as 40% for total joint replacements and roughly 50% for cardiac procedures.
Where do we go from here? We face an unprecedented period of change in healthcare. Training clinicians to think beyond one patient or one clearly defined problem, while teaching leadership skills to navigate the ambiguity of the healthcare system’s issues, can yield real results.
Physician-led medical groups are possibly the most effective environment for imparting these skills to future physician leaders. Accountable care organizations led by physicians saved Medicare $256.4 million in 2015, while those led by hospitals ended up costing the program money, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Medical groups are better positioned to accept full-risk payment models, which align our incentives with transformative benefits for individual patients and the healthcare system. But none of that is possible without talented physicians with strong leadership skills sitting alongside business professionals in the board room, while retaining credibility with front-line clinicians.
As we continue exploring solutions to our healthcare system’s challenges, leadership strength is emerging as an area of opportunity. Creating a pipeline of physician leaders who understand the business—and how to lead teams and drive results—will ensure successful outcomes in areas such as clinical quality, affordability, patient experience and physician satisfaction/retention across the industry.