Finding Common Ground: 3 Tips to Improve Relationships Between Hospital CFOs and Physicians

The classic parable of the blind men and the elephant is often associated with, perhaps indirectly, the healthcare industry. In the story, several blind people feel different parts of the elephant to discuss what the elephant is actually like. Because they all feel different parts of the elephant, the people differ greatly on the structure and traits of the elephant, resulting in a lack of consensus and rapid disagreement.

In healthcare, this concept describes the different fragments or silos of the delivery system that include different people and providers along the way. It has especially been used to describe hospital CFOs, who are stereotyped as analytical number-crunchers, and physicians, who are stereotyped as autonomous creatures of habit.

For Oliver Rogers, president of hospital-based services at outsourced physician staffing solutions firm TeamHealth, that story is greatly exaggerated, and the stereotypes are not accurate. Here, Mr. Rogers outlines three tips to help improve relationships between hospital CFOs and physicians.

1. Realize there is common ground. As mentioned, Mr. Rogers says CFOs and physicians occasionally characterize each other with preconceived characteristics. CFOs may view physicians as only caring about the quality without understanding the monetary aspects of running a hospital, while physicians may view CFOs as not truly grasping what goes into the elaborate process of taking care of a patient. Those predispositions need to be cast aside at the beginning of any project for any progress to be made.

"Both of those perceptions are wrong," Mr. Rogers says. "Know you're coming into [a challenge] from two different perspectives, but there is common ground."

2. Establish an objective dashboard. When hospital CFOs and physicians must collaborate to complete a project, both parties must agree on an objective data set to judge if the project is succeeding.

For example, Mr. Rogers worked with a large trauma center in the Southeast to improve the emergency department. ED wait times were increasing, patient satisfaction was decreasing and, consequently, the hospital began to suffer financially. He says the CFOs and emergency physicians established an agreed-upon dashboard to gauge their progress and to see how the ED would improve its performance. They watched their door-to-physician time, turnaround times of ancillary services ordered by emergency physicians, staffing coverage by time of day and several other measures.

"We tracked this data initially every two weeks and then once a month," Mr. Rogers says. "There was a lot of daily interaction between the nurse manager, vice presidents of emergency medicine services and medical directors, too, and the CFOs were also involved in those biweekly and monthly meetings. It was a great success."

3. Set a realistic timetable for projects. Too often, CFOs and physicians may expect too much of each other or may not communicate expectations at all. This could be reflected in constricted, burdensome project timetables or no project timetables altogether. Mr. Rogers says hospital executives and physicians must sit down together and map out what works for both parties. Physicians must give reasonable feedback on how much time they need to complete the projects at hand, and CFOs must work that feedback within the hospital's desired timetables.

"Rome was not built in a day," Mr. Rogers says. "We want to fix things quickly, but it's not going to happen overnight."

Key to all of this is, of course, honesty and a sense of respect.

"A byproduct of working together is the ability to develop a trusting relationship," Mr. Rogers adds. "Both [CFOs and physicians] want the same thing — for the hospital to be successful."

More Articles on Hospital CFO Leadership:

Hospital Layoffs and Financial Viability: Do They Go Hand-in-Hand?
6 Traits That Define a Great Hospital CFO
117 Hospital CFO Profiles

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