HealthcareIs Transforming Healthcare Changing the Structure of Leadership?

Pamela Dixon Pamela Dixon2 years ago8 min

Our healthcare system, lagging behind other industries, must cross a chasm to address what is broken and, in the process, become consumer—centric.  That will basically require rethinking everything, but most of all the leadership that will get us there. One thing seems clear: it will quite literally require a new brand of out-of-the-box thinkers.

“Most people’s healthcare requirements have very little to do with hospitals, Babylon CEO, Ali Parsa.

The focus of medicine has changed.  Thanks to an aging population, the focus has shifted to the treatment of chronic disease, preventing it and managing it.   According to Ali Parsa, it was this very notion that was the genesis for Babylon, a smartphone application that Parsa launched in the United Kingdom that utilizes artificial intelligence, AI, in the form of a chatbot. Replacing a live doctor, the chatbot conducts an electronic medical consultation, similar to a consultation with a General Practitioner, but the Babylon app is available anywhere, anytime.  The four walls of a doctor’s office, a hospital, or a clinic suddenly become unnecessary.

As technology prompts us to rethink how care has traditionally been delivered, it also prompts us to rethink traditional leadership roles.

Dr. Stephen Klasko, CEO of Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health, was recently honored by being named among Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business for 2018. The list includes leaders from Tesla, Amazon, Netflix, Instagram, Twitter, and seemed to  beg the question, why were no other hospital executives named to the list? Dr. Klasko attributes this fact to a “fundamental problem in the healthcare leadership pipeline”. We agree.

Retained executive search SSi-SEARCH, focused exclusively on healthcare technology leadership, launched the firm over a decade ago in support of roles that could leverage technology to drive change and transform healthcare.  This necessarily included emerging, new leadership roles. As early proponents of these roles, such as Chief Medical Information Officer, Chief Health Information Officer, and Chief Nurse Information Officer, there was clear value in bringing clinical expertise to technology deployments.  We also advocated for leaders to advance beyond electronic health records and, as a leader, strategically leverage technology across the enterprise.

In spite of their value, new leadership roles are not always immediately embraced.  A key challenge to incorporating emerging leadership roles has been the hierarchical design of the organizational structure of healthcare.  Accepting new leadership roles to the C-suite – or new leadership dyads – put pressure on reporting relationships because the organizational structure simply was not designed to accommodate new leadership paradigms.  This has been a fundamental obstacle in building the healthcare leadership pipeline.  New leadership roles that can bring new thinking to processes will continue to be needed and at a rapidly increasing rate.

Building the leadership pipeline in healthcare means recoding the traditional org chart. 

The organizational structure of healthcare is flattening, becoming more team based, and receptive to emerging leadership.  Roles such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Analytics, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Officer are increasing in importance and prevalence.  These emerging leaders bring diverse backgrounds.  Many are clinicians and bring a critically important perspective, some are PhD’s and bring insight to the research side of healthcare, some bring a blend of marketing and business, some are re-engineering healthcare with an outside-of-healthcare perspective.

We see these roles, whether permanent or transitional, as critically important because they make organizations think about both what they need or want the individual to accomplish, as well as what the organization itself could accomplish with the right person. To truly cross the digital divide will mean bringing traditional care forward into the age of digital care with a new brand of leadership.

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Pamela Dixon

Pamela Dixon

Pamela Dixon is the Managing Partner of retained, executive search firm, SSi-SEARCH. The firm is laser focused on the recruitment of executives driving digital transformation across every sector of healthcare. We work consultatively with our clients to build innovative leadership teams that can drive change and transform healthcare.

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