What clinical leaders must know in today's climate: 13 key trends

Health systems that fared the best through the surges of COVID-19 were those with strong, authentic leaders who were able to communicate effectively and instill a sense of calm during chaos. They also found ways to mitigate clinician burnout during the most intense days of combatting the virus on the frontlines; now their efforts are focused on spreading accurate information and expanding access to care.

At the Becker's Healthcare Clinical Leadership Virtual Event on Sept. 9-10, health system executives and clinical leaders joined expert panels to discuss trends and themes in clinical leadership and where their focus will be in the coming months. Click here to view the sessions on demand.

Here are 13 takeaways from the event.

1. Chief clinical officers are optimistic when considering the new normal. Looking forward to 2021, leaders are focusing on these top clinical priorities:

• Promoting education opportunities
• Strategies to maintain quality as services expand
• Connecting with patients in new ways
• Fostering health equity

2. The defining characteristics of unforgettable nurse leaders are: authenticity, being strategic and a visionary, and showing genuine concern, kindness and agility.

3. Throughout the organization, communication is pivotal to maintaining a sense of calmness and normalcy, especially during a pandemic when changes can happen rapidly. Make sure staff members understand the 'why' behind decisions being made, especially when there is so much uncertainty. Being open and transparent is important.

4. High-performing medical teams have deep trust, a pervasive culture and the "three Hs": head, heart and hand. Medical teams often hum the best in the face of adversity. These times allow clinicians to reflect on how they worked together as an expert team, not a team of experts.

5. The push for gender and racial equity is not simply a moralistic imperative — it's also a practical step the industry needs to take to continue to meet healthcare demand and maintain the caliber of excellence at America's elite medical institutions. Fewer people are going into academic medicine, and many women leave the field because of biased organizational hierarchies. Academic medicine needs the best and the brightest. Without fairness, the attrition of talent in healthcare will continue.

6. Some leading institutions in academic medicine have begun using report cards to assess leaderships' support of racial and gender equity. These assessments can include measures like how many women are in a leader's division, how many speaking engagements were women of color offered or how many consequential committees have female members on them.

7. COVID-19 misinformation is widespread. Some believe masks don't work while others think masks offer 100 percent protection from the virus and don't choose to social distance. Others think because they are young and/or healthy they won't experience symptoms of the virus, and if they do, the symptoms will be mild. Finally, many believe the vaccine will be ready within months and have widespread availability this year, which may not be the case. Health systems have established trust within their communities as experts and must share accurate facts about the virus across several platforms and media to combat misinformation.

8. Misinformation can also occur among healthcare providers. A common misconception about clinical decision support is that it's a silver bullet. In fact, adding clinical decision support to existing workflows does not mean care will improve or change. The right processes, incentives and ecosystem have to be in place first.

9. Leadership is the first line of defense against burnout. How healthcare leaders present themselves and focus on the situation at hand goes a long way toward reassuring the team.

10. One of the fundamental causes of physician burnout is a sense that physicians have lost control and can't do anything about the barriers preventing them from taking care of patients. Health systems need to focus on empowering physicians to tell executives what they need, so they can take care of patients.

11. Health systems have taken various steps to address clinician resilience and well-being during the pandemic. This includes guaranteeing employee salaries — even if the individual could not work for a period due to temporary service closures — as well as increasing communication between clinicians and leadership. Some have also offered workers resources such as tele spiritual health and cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with their stress.

12. It's important to invest in the workforce and ensure employees know the resources available to them when they have signs and symptoms of burnout. Also, recognize and celebrate what workers do and let them know they are valued.

13. How hospitals respond to medical errors has dramatically transformed over the past decade, with honesty and accountability emerging as key tenets of this process. Healthcare leaders should disclose a medical error to the patients and family members as early and as transparently as possible. However, they must avoid jumping to conclusions about what the error was and why it occurred. Clinicians and healthcare leaders must conduct a fair, thorough investigation to understand the error and its root cause before disclosing it to the patient and family.


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