How 2 hospital CFOs are embracing their evolving roles and leading their organizations to success

The role of hospital and health system CFO is evolving, and that new role has financial leaders stepping out of their comfort zones to take on a more strategic position and develop a better understanding of the day-to-day operations of the business.

"The traditional CFO role was financial planning and analysis," said Jon Duckert, CFO of Dallas-based Baylor Medical Center at Uptown, during a panel discussion on key issues for CFOs at Becker's Hospital Review 6th Annual Meeting in Chicago. However, that is changing, and Mr. Duckert said CFOs now need to possess many other abilities, including people skills for their organizations to succeed.

Pamela Hess, CFO of Saint Thomas Midtown and Saint Thomas West hospitals in Nashville, Tenn., echoed Mr. Duckert's view on the changing CFO role. "Every day is different and every day is a challenge," she said. Ms. Hess shared a specific example of one of the ways her duties are changing. "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," she said. By becoming more involved in that area of her organization, Ms. Hess said she's learned a lot, but she's not the only one who is gaining knowledge. She believes her involvement has led to the CMOs developing a better understanding of finance as well.

Ms. Hess and Mr. Duckert also touched on how every dollar counts in the healthcare environment today, as hospitals are facing reimbursement cuts and a growing number of patients with high-deductible health plans. Those financial pressures caused Ms. Hess to look at every area of spending at her organizations, including office supply costs. When she came to St. Thomas there was a system in place that allowed anyone to order office supplies, and the spending was "out of control," she said. Ms. Hess implemented a program that required any office supply order to be signed off by a unit manager as well as herself. "In just one year at one campus we saved $180,000 by using this process," Ms. Hess said.

Mr. Duckert discussed how it is possible for organizations to improve their finances and the patient experience at the same time. He told a story about an employee at his hospital named Samantha who is in charge or doing the pre-collection calls. The purpose of the call is to inform patients who are scheduled for a procedure of their financial obligation and to collect payment prior to treatment. Although Samantha successfully does that, the calls have turned into much more, said Mr. Duckert. Many patients have anxiety about coming to the hospital and the procedure they're undergoing, and Samantha takes the time to help ease their nerves and to provide them with information on the high-quality care they will receive. Mr. Duckert said those calls mean a lot to the patients, and Samantha even gets flowers from patients thanking her for her time and for helping provide them with peace of mind before their procedures.

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