Mass General Brigham's Dr. Anne Klibanski on building the academic health system of the future

A continued commitment to patient care, research, teaching and innovation — while addressing existing challenges — will be part of the future of healthcare, according to Anne Klibanski, MD, president and CEO of Boston-based Mass General Brigham.

Dr. Klibanski has served at the helm of Mass General Brigham since June 2019. In this role, she oversees an academic health system with 82,000 employees.

Dr. Klibanski, who also previously served as chief academic officer of Mass General Brigham and chief of neuroendocrine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Becker's her view of her organization, like healthcare, is one that keeps patients at the center. She shared more about this vision, as well as her greatest skill as a leader and the advice she remembers most clearly.  

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity.

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Anne Klibanski: When I was in college at Barnard, I became fascinated with the brain and its chemistry, and at the same time intrigued by how I might devote my life's work to helping others.  

I was an English major, and I wrote my senior thesis on the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. I think that the richness of such an interdisciplinary course of study laid the groundwork for my career in neuroendocrinology. It is a complex field; one that requires very specific scientific knowledge in multiple areas, coupled with cross-disciplinary work, in determining how to best care for patients.    

Q: What do you enjoy most about Massachusetts?

AK: I'm a New Yorker, and when I first came to Boston, I had the intention of going back. But once I spent some time here, I became so impressed with how many incredible physicians, researchers and innovators there are, all in one city, often working together, to advance science to improve the lives of patients. Personally, I've enjoyed the ease of living and proximity to the ocean and mountains. I've been here ever since.  

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be? 

AK: Improving patient access to outstanding equitable healthcare, closer to home, at a lower cost. Making this happen is part of Mass General Brigham's vision for the future.  

Q: How do you view the future of healthcare?

AK: First and foremost, it means staying committed to being at the forefront of patient care, research, teaching and innovation, while tackling the current challenges we are facing in healthcare and transforming the ways we do our work. 

Our industry must move from a hospital-centered focus of healthcare to a patient-centered focus and make it easier for all our patients to access and navigate a full continuum of care. We must ensure equity in clinical access and best outcomes no matter where our patients live. We must work together to shape the treatments, procedures and delivery methods of the future, focusing deeply on collaboration, and sharing a strong commitment to invest in research. We must fully embrace digital and data — new platforms offer so much potential for better understanding disease, better serving patients, and for making the lives of our overburdened caregivers easier. We can, and should, bring high-quality care into the home to make it easier to access and more affordable for our patients. We must value and invest in scalable innovation and bring the incredible creativity and progress we have made in diagnostics and therapeutics to care delivery.

Each of these imperatives are critical facets of our very mission at Mass General Brigham, which is to build the integrated academic healthcare system of the future, with patients at the center. Our patients rightfully expect more from our industry, and it is our collective responsibility to find ways to make it work better for them.

Q: What do you see as your greatest skill as a leader?

AK: Bringing our world-class physicians and colleagues together to try and solve our industry's challenges as a forward-looking team, in service to our patients.

What is most important to me is fostering strong working relationships with my colleagues, always providing value and driving a single-minded focus on patients — whether it's through research, advances in complex care, scalable innovation, teaching and service to the communities around us. 

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

AK: When I was a student at Barnard, Elizabeth Hardwick, who was a co-founder of The New York Review of Books, told me that "your profession is not your career." To me, this means that your career can become so much greater than simply following through with the work you've trained to do. Don't be afraid to do what you're passionate about. Find what motivates you, take chances and let that be a guide for what you can accomplish and the impact you can have. 

Q: What do you consider to be one of the most impactful initiatives at Mass General Brigham that has launched since you have been CEO?  

AK: I'm very excited right now about the work we're doing on the systemwide clinical integration of our emergency, radiology, anesthesiology and pathology services. I'm proud of this work because it is a significant step toward simplifying the patient journey, which gets at what that future of healthcare that you asked about can, and should, look like.

Here's an example of what we're doing with radiology. Previously, a patient might have entered our system at a community hospital or health center, undergone an examination and found out that they needed to have a complex set of images taken. Sometimes, the hospital or center may not have had the technology or expertise in place to take this set of images and analyze them, which may have required the patient to make an additional appointment, probably at one of our academic medical centers in Boston, to have these images done and have a radiologist specialist read them. Often, this placed a heavy burden on the patient, who had to travel to another facility, perhaps many miles from where he or she lived, take a day off from work, lose pay, find childcare or eldercare, arrange transportation; all the while dealing with the stress of waiting to have images taken and read.  

Today, this same patient has a very different experience with Mass General Brigham. Images can be taken at any one of our entry points, and when needed, shared with specialists at our AMCs who can seamlessly analyze the results and provide the necessary information to the physician working at the community hospital or health center where the patient was first seen.  

Ultimately, the integration of these services puts patients first. This is what is most important.  

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