'This is part of pandemic recovery': 4 chief medical officers share their priorities for the year

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry is facing escalating challenges including workforce shortages and burnout. Amid these challenges, hospitals are prioritizing building their workforce, expanding patient care models and addressing health discrepancies. 

As new variants continue to emerge and these challenges continue to be pertinent, Becker's asked chief medical officers to share their priorities for the rest of the year.

Four responses:

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

Michael H. Anderson, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (Seattle): Across the globe, communities continue to battle COVID-19 and its new variants, which have delayed a long-awaited transition from a pandemic to an endemic phase. Because of this, the healthcare industry is facing staffing shortages, supply chain challenges, financial losses and a widespread reluctance to seek routine wellness care because of concerns related to COVID-19 exposure. Although this is stressful from an individual perspective, historically, this situation is part of pandemic recovery. By 1920, the Spanish influenza pandemic had caused a high demand for skilled workers within the general workforce, supply chain shortages and a loss of trust with the healthcare system. To successfully address these challenges, my priorities for the next year are as follows:

  1. Investing in our healthcare training pipelines to reduce barriers to educating healthcare professionals at all levels.
  2. Introducing efficiencies within the acute care system as well as in the outpatient setting to conserve resources, including tools such as automation and artificial intelligence to assist clinicians and improve patient experience.
  3. Introducing clinical practices that reduce acute care hospital occupancy by providing a comparable level of care at home and appropriately reducing the hospital length of stay. 

Hoda Asmar, MD. Chief Medical Officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.): My focus is on four priorities that deliver impactful results for our patients, communities and caregivers.

  1. Reinvigorate the focus on patient outcomes, experience and health disparities in a meaningful and action-oriented approach.
  2. Give our patients more choices by accelerating the adoption of new models of care, specifically in telehealth and the deployment of technologies that serve patients where and how they prefer.
  3. Create a workforce with the needed skills for jobs of the future, focusing on what brings resiliency to persons and teams, and additional career and workplace choices for our caregivers.
  4. Increase collaboration with public health at the local, state and federal levels in order to attain our goals around health disparities, new models of care and building healthier communities. Partnerships and collaboration will be essential for large-scale success in these areas.

William Bornstein, MD, PhD. Chief Medical Officer and Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer at Emory Healthcare (Atlanta): The biggest challenge facing us in healthcare is created by the intersection of increasing burnout and overburden with the labor crisis. The labor crisis is partly driven by burnout and is also exacerbating burnout through staffing shortages. The financial consequences of increased reliance on contract labor have created unsustainable negative pressures on operating margins. Even if commercial and governmental payers adjust reimbursement in response to the increased labor costs, the implications for employers and taxpayers and other sectors of the economy are themselves unsustainable. 

This intersection of factors is self-amplifying, and while they preexisted the pandemic, they have become exponentially more severe. Healthcare contributes only 10 percent to population health, with environmental factors, including social determinants, having much greater impact. The financial impacts of increased healthcare costs on the rest of the economy will further exacerbate adverse social determinants if they are not mitigated. Furthermore, healthcare quality measure performance has deteriorated during the pandemic, in large part due to these same factors. Our challenge as healthcare leaders is to develop and deploy major innovations that improve quality and lower costs and at the same time reduce overburden. At Emory Healthcare, we will achieve this by doubling down on Lean to reduce waste and burden, and we will also leverage Lean to enhance how we use technology in order to deliver on the yet unrealized promise of that technology to reduce burden and improve quality.

Sandra Brooks, MD. Executive Vice President and Chief Community Health Equity Officer at Jefferson Health; Chief Medical Officer of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital; and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sidney Kimmel College of Medicine (Philadelphia): I have dual roles as chief medical officer for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and as executive vice president and chief community health equity officer for Jefferson Health. In both those roles, I will continue to work closely with community partners through the Jefferson Collaborative for Health Equity and expand our vision of closing the gap, while ensuring hospital services remain stellar as we build on our award-winning quality initiatives.

Quality goal:

Last year, Jefferson won the ECRI and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices PSO 2021 Safety Excellence Award, recognizing our health system for outstanding patient safety efforts and initiatives, despite the pandemic. Our goal will be to continue to take a systems approach that will ensure we maintain a high level of excellence and rigor with our safety and quality initiatives.

Equity goal:

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare and exacerbated many of the health disparities that have existed for decades. While it is critical that we have systems in place to deliver equitable care, we also recognize that the upstream drivers of health — where people live, work, play and pray — play a predominant role in determining quality of life and longevity. The Jefferson Collaborative for Health Equity is the convening, catalyzing, collaborating arm of Jefferson Health — working with our community partners to build a Philadelphia in which everyone has an equal opportunity to be healthy. We do that through capacity building, outreach, education and disease management, and through advocacy for effective policy. These are fundamental issues that must be addressed as a collective. As a hospital, we feel the responsibility to address the devastating effects of inequity on specific medical measures and patient outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and maternal health.

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