Providence leader Dr. David Kim on what makes a CEO successful in a pandemic

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David Kim, MD, is executive vice president and chief executive of the physician enterprise team at Renton, Wash.-based Providence health system. He spoke with Becker's in November about the future of health system leadership and the ongoing battle to establish trust in medicine.

Question: Given what healthcare is experiencing in regards to misinformation, do you think that leadership teams at hospitals and health systems will design new roles dedicated to preventing the spread of misinformation and protecting workplace culture?

Dr. David Kim: Interesting question. I haven't heard any conversations around creating specific roles. What I do think is that across every role that currently exists in leadership, there's a concerted effort to think through how we can engage our workforce to interact with facts and resources that are consistent with evidence-based medicine, consistent with recommendations from the scientific community and really consistent with the kind of care that we want to be delivering to our communities.

I can see why an organization would feel compelled to create a position like that, but I think much of the problem here that we're having with misinformation is less around availability of resources and more around engaging the audience and our caregivers and our workforce in a different kind of way. It's not because of a lack of resources and evidence that we're having problems. It's really more a general lack of trust that's been created in our society overall that's bleeding into healthcare much like it's bleeding into every industry, and how do we, as an organization, get our arms around creating that trust and strengthening that trust so that emotion and reason aren't battling against each other in the day-to-day of what we need to be doing to deliver care safely.

Q: Providence has managed to achieve a very high vaccination rate among its staff. Why do you think the health system has been successful with this?

DK: I think one is because we got the right information and resources in the hands of the people that are making these decisions. Number two, I think we've done so in a way that's been very respectful and collegial, and we've really tried to approach each of our caregivers, physicians and our clinicians as partners in the work. And not just as, 'We're going to tell you what to do,' but, 'Let's really engage in the right conversation so you can understand the value and the importance of getting vaccinated.' And so I think that's led to a culture where people feel respected and heard, and then that leads to people making the right decision and moving forward with getting vaccinated because we are able to get them the evidence in a way that they can receive and make sense out of and digest.

Q: How has Providence responded to vaccine hesitancy among patients, especially in states where there haven't been any mandates?

DK: I think at its best, healthcare is about relationships. And so I think what we're trying to do is really leverage those relationships that our teams, our hospitals, our caregivers, our physicians have with these patients to engage in the right conversations. Because again, it's not a lack of information that's causing people to not get vaccinated. It's their engagement and how they choose to interact with that information, and that, I think, is really more a conversation around building trust and leveraging relationships to help people understand the reasoning behind why we feel that being vaccinated is so important in helping, not only for their individual health but also the health of our communities overall.

Q: What do you think makes a strong healthcare CEO during this pandemic?

DK: I think someone who's committed to the care of their communities, who is mindful of the engagement and buy-in of the workforce that we are partnering with to deliver care safely to our communities. And I think overall someone who understands what it means to lead with love, which is not something that people necessarily associate with leaders of big businesses, but in this day and age, I think leading with love can really build that trust that's so critical for retention, recruitment, engagement, productivity, efficiency, all of these things. I think in a time where we're in a workforce crisis, where healthcare is more stressful than it's ever been, I think a CEO that can lead with love can help set the right culture that people show up to every day, understanding the value of who they are and what they bring and what they're doing for the community.

Q: Providence has made a lot of investments in telehealth over the last year. What else is on the horizon?

DK: So we have the telehealth options that most health systems have pivoted to and have seen the pandemic catalyze. We are then leveraging that technology to think through different ways of providing care, not only on a per visit basis, but also in terms of creating different platforms. So in several of our markets, we're thinking about what a virtual medical group looks like that's not bound by bricks-and-mortar medical office buildings, and by drive times, but really by access to primary care doctors and specialists through a virtual telehealth platform. And then how do we deliver that in a way that is a full-package medical group to communities that maybe sit outside of our traditional area of hospitals or zip codes that we normally have been in service to. It allows us to think very differently about which communities we're able to serve and what services we can provide those communities.

Q: What are some of your biggest goals and priorities over the next year as Providence's chief executive of Physician Enterprise?

DK: I think our big cares are making sure that we are able to support and create an engaged workforce where we become a destination people want to work for. I think we want to be a place that delivers access, so that patients can get the high quality care we deliver, and we make sure that they can do so in a way that meets their expectations. And then I think we really want to become a destination choice for our communities, not just because we are the best place to get the best clinical care, but the place to go that really embraces individuals as people and offers a service and a level of care that makes people feel seen for everything that they are, and for the whole person. Whether they're coming in for a well-check to ensure they're staying healthy, or they're coming in for a severe disease, we want to create a system and an organization that makes people feel holistically cared for. I think that's my hope and plan for the next year or two.

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