10 pieces of advice from hospital CFOs

From changing reimbursement levels to the evolving CFO role, finance leaders at hospitals and health systems are facing a number of challenges.

Regarding the numerous issues CFOs are taking on, finance chiefs from hospitals and health systems across the nation shared the following pieces of advice with Becker's Hospital Review over the last five months.

1. St. Louis-based Ascension Health Senior Vice President and CFO Rhonda Anderson shared her thoughts on the essential skills health system CFOs need in today's healthcare climate. "As the healthcare industry moves to a fee-for-value payment system, CFOs have to be open to the disruptive environment and look at the ongoing changes as an opportunity," she said. "To respond to this landscape, CFOs should be comfortable and flexible with seeking strategic partnerships and building relationships with other providers, health systems and payers."

2. Ms. Anderson also shared her views on the greatest challenge hospital and health system CFOs are facing. "The analogy that I like to use is that the industry changes are so significant that it is like healthcare CFOs have a foot in two boats at the same time," she said. "This is a major balancing act of the fee-for-service world vs. the fee-for-value world. As CFOs, it is important to manage our existing operations, but also have the vision for the future."

3. Kanner Tillman, PhD, CFO of Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Hospital and Encino (Calif.) Hospital Medical Center, offered his advice for community hospitals interested in improving their billing practices to increase collections. "Community hospitals must have flawless revenue cycle processes in place to prevent revenue seepage," he said. "That requires a strong hospitalwide focus and adequate investment resources in all three stages of the revenue cycle."

4. Dr. Tillman also shared his thoughts on getting a hospital's whole team involved, including management and physicians, to gain the rewards of pay-for-performance initiatives. "Physicians can be your best partner in this effort if you give them data that shows their performance relative to their peers and how they contribute to quality and outcomes," he said.

5. From taking a deeper dive into patients' health insurance plans to directing calls to one location, Naperville, Ill.-based Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare Senior Vice President and CFO Vince Pryor shared his thoughts on how to equip patients with firm numbers about their out-of-pocket costs. "We've taken on the role of financial counselor," he said.

6. Karen Testman, RN, CFO of MemorialCare Health System in Fountain Valley, Calif., shared her thoughts on the skills healthcare CFOs need. "The rapidly changing healthcare environment requires skills that include, but stretch beyond, those that have historically centered on financial management and discipline," she said. "Today, a CFO needs to be strategic and creative. These two characteristics are key to formulating ideas that are new and different — within an acceptable financial context — and essential to achieving and supporting successful partnerships with non-traditional partners. Flexibility, agility and the ability to act quickly are also very important attributes of today's CFO."

7. Michael Allen, CFO of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., shared his thoughts on the essential skills health system CFOs need to possess in today's healthcare climate. "There are several skills or traits necessary to navigate our complex environment. The first is communication," he said. "It is critical to be able to articulate the financial context and the 'why' for our plans and decisions across the organization. That requires the ability to carry that message effectively from the boardroom to the front line. If that is done well, then finance moves from being finicky to being a partner for the organization."

8. Mr. Allen also shared his views on the greatest challenge facing health systems today. "Our greatest challenge isn't risk-based contracts, accountable care organization development or physician recruiting. Our biggest challenge is adapting and competing in the new health economy," he said. "Our patients will demand more options, self-service, convenience and lower costs, and if we don't respond other competitors outside the industry will."

9. Pamela Hess, CFO of Saint Thomas Midtown and Saint Thomas West hospitals in Nashville, Tenn., offered her views on the changing CFO role and the importance of getting involved in areas outside of finance. "In the past I wasn't involved in many of the quality and infection control meetings, but with readmissions impacting reimbursement I had to get involved," said Ms. Hess.

10. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care CFO Daniel Morissette shared his views on what it takes to be a successful finance chief in the healthcare industry. "An effective CFO has to be positioned in front of the strategy-making process," he said. "Additionally, in healthcare, the CFO has to be closely aware of the organization's quality and patient service performance. This obviously drives into the financial numbers, but also affects the organization's ability to attract new business."

More articles on healthcare finance:

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Doing more with less: Strategies for competing on price, quality and both at the same time
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