Why a health system CEO takes notes from public utilities

Leaders in the healthcare industry have at times taken notes from industries or businesses outside of healthcare. For Bob Riney, president and CEO of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health, this is public utility and energy companies.

Mr. Riney, who has helmed Henry Ford Health, a five-hospital health system, since 2022, told Becker's the utility world specifically provides valuable insights when it comes to data privacy and security.

"They run everything from nuclear power to wind to electric grids, and as a result are subject to a lot of attempts for security breaches," he said. "And I have found a level of sophistication in that industry that is helping us."

Mr. Riney shared more about this help below. He also discussed the issue he wants healthcare to talk more about, a healthcare opinion he holds, and a book he's reading to prepare for the future. 

Editor's note: This is a regular series of conversations with CEOs of the nation's health systems. Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What's something the healthcare industry isn't talking about enough?

Bob Riney: We're not talking about population health at the depth that we need to talk about it. Certainly not in a consistent way around the country. And I think that we need to really step back and look at the adaptable models for unique populations that we serve. Models like CMS' Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly that really ensure holistic approaches to health. I think we've come so far in creating great value and efficiency in the delivery of care and service, but regarding that holistic approach, especially for the populations that are quite vulnerable, I think we have a long way to go, and I don't think we're talking about it enough.

Q: What's an industry or business outside of healthcare that you think we could take notes from? 

BR: I've certainly leaned into public utility and energy companies. You might say, "Why them?" But it's really focused on what I think is one of the biggest and growing threats to the industry, and that's data privacy and security. And the reason I lean into that industry is they have an infrastructure that is critically important to the life of citizens very similar to healthcare, and they run everything from nuclear power to wind to electric grids, and as a result are subject to a lot of attempts for security breaches. And I have found a level of sophistication in that industry that is helping us.

We brought a couple of security experts from the utility world onto our board committee that oversees privacy and debt integrity, and they really add a lot because they're getting hit as much as if not more than our industry. They have a lot of very high-risk sectors of their industry. So I have found it to be of great value.

Q: What's an unpopular (or uncommon) leadership or healthcare opinion you have?        

BR: It's hard for me to judge how uncommon it is. But for me, it's the fact that we can, and we should, compete and collaborate at the same time. It's not an either/or. It's a both/and. And I still find a lot of the industry looking at it as an either/or, and to me, we can compete on our service. We compete on our access. We compete on those things that stakeholders care about. But we should be collaborating on backroom support to continually try and drive value in the industry. And we should be collaborating on the sharing of breakthrough best practices when it comes to specific quality outcomes. Because at the end of the day, we exist for communities, and I don't think we can ever forget that and forget what it takes to keep that flourishing.

Q: What are you reading up on now to prepare for the next three to 10 years?

BR: I'm reading a book right now called "Attack from Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging America" by Barbara McQuade. It just came out, and the book itself is about the level of disinformation flooding citizens of our country vis-à-vis social media networks. But what I'm walking away with from reading the book is the unbelievable impact that it is having on our mental health. And so I look at the advancement of disinformation and the sophistication of disinformation as a real additional threat to our mental health and the impact that that could have on healthcare because we're already seeing mental health demands that we are struggling to keep up with. And I think that the issues that are raised in this book tell me that we're going to see a lot more, and we have to prepare for it.

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