Becker's CEO + CFO Roundtable 2019: 3 Questions with Richard Isaacs, Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director, The Permanente Medical Group; President and Chief Executive Officer, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group

Richard Isaacs, MD, serves as Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director, The Permanente Medical Group; President and Chief Executive Officer, Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group; Co-Chief Executive Officer, The Permanente Federation LLC.

On November 12th, Dr. Isaacs will give a presentation on "Leading in the Future: Driving Quality Care through Intelligent Technologies" at Becker's 8th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable. As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference, which will take place November 11-13, 2019 in Chicago.

To learn more about the conference and Dr. Isaacs' session, click here.

Question: What is going on right now?

Richard Isaacs: Kaiser Permanente has launched a new social health network to address social determinants of health such as homelessness and food insecurity—and it can’t come at a better time. Nearly 20 percent of Kaiser Permanente’s members are struggling with food insecurity and about 23 percent with housing stability. We can do better in helping our members navigate these issues. Partnering with the social care coordination platform Unite Us, we’ll track community partner referrals and service outcomes to assess how patient needs are being met. It’s all part of a larger technology push we are leveraging to help patients get care when and where they need it.

Q: What is the single most important thing you need to do in your role? (Ie: What do you have to be great at?)

RI: When I first joined The Permanente Medical Group in 1995, I had a conversation with my chief, Dr. Monica Rivera, who told me, “If anyone ever asks you for something, or if any of your colleagues need help, the answer is always ‘yes, how can I help you, and I’ll be right there.’" I took Dr. Rivera’s advice to heart, and that has been my approach throughout my career. What was and still is satisfying to me is inspiring people and helping them achieve potential that they didn’t otherwise think was possible. I believe my job as CEO is to encourage creative thinking and amplify our innovative spirit by cultivating an environment in which our physicians and staff feel safe to take appropriate risks as they continually think about new and better ways to advance the delivery of health care by improving quality, technology and the overall care experience.

A leader’s job is not to prevent mistakes; it’s to create a culture in which it is safe for those who make them. Good leaders accept risk and trust their people. Our job is to clear a path. After all, there is no growth without change.

Q: Healthcare leaders today need skills and talents that span beyond those emphasized during formal training and higher education. What is one specific competency that you learned or sharpened in real life?

RI: The competency that has best served me, not taught in a classroom, is the ability to be collaborative through carefully developed relationships. I learned early on that the most effective path to success is through relationships and collaboration. Healthcare is a close community and multi-disciplinary - having those connections is invaluable. I know that emotional intelligence is a bit of a buzzword, but it really is so important to personal and professional success.

Q: There is a lot to improve upon in healthcare. Of the many issues that hold your attention, what is the one you consider exceptionally imperative and urgent?

RI: The health care industry is projected to grow 18 percent overall by 2026. With so much growth, it’s critical that we keep the right focus in mind: healthy people and populations.

One of the aspects of Permanente Medicine that I truly value is our emphasis on health—not just health care. We are widely recognized for our leadership in prevention and early detection that keeps patients healthy and productive in their daily lives. The ability to do this not only delivers better individual health but also improves the overall health and well-being of populations and communities.

A prime example of this is our work with colon cancer. A recent study showed that Kaiser Permanente Northern California members are 52 percent less likely to die from colorectal cancer since we launched a comprehensive screening program—in which 83 percent of members are current in their screenings. The study also showed there has been a 26-percent decline in the total number of colorectal cancer cases. At the same time, we need to make sure we are always putting patients at the center of care to drive better clinical outcomes, particularly for specialty care. For example, in 2014 Kaiser Permanente Northern California shifted thoracic surgery cases from 16 hospitals to five designated specialty-care centers. A recent study showed that shifting lung-cancer surgery to designated centers within our integrated system reduced the number of days patients spent in the hospital, decreased intensive care use, and reduced postoperative complications. At the same time, regionalization resulted in increased use of minimally invasive, video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, and the average operating time for these types of surgeries decreased. This is a model for the country.

Executive Officer, Executive
Director, The Permanente
Medical Group (TPMG);
President and Chief Executive
Officer, Mid-Atlantic Permanente
Medical Group (MAPMG);
Co-CEO, The Permanente
Federation LLC

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