Challenging the New Executive Healthcare Roles Like Chief Innovation Officer

Stewart J. Schaffer is challenging the thought process behind some new and trending executive roles (titles) in healthcare, asking probing questions about the scope of the roles and if they even make sense. In a recent interview for Managed Healthcare Executive magazine, he was interviewed by Nicolas Hamm, who was investigating the qualities needed for filling roles of newer health system C-suite roles such as a  new trend in the title and role of “Chief Innovation Officer.”

In fact, the points that Schaffer put forward completely shifted the focus of the article from looking at the qualities needed, to whether the roles even make sense for healthcare organizations. In his position as co-founder and managing partner at , a national healthcare advisory firm, he has had extensive experience in top-level positions for healthcare organizations. He also has held senior-level positions in Fortune 50 non-healthcare enterprises and thus his views are based on what he is seeing in practice in the healthcare landscape today through the eyes of a healthcare consultant and also based on his decades of real-world experiences outside the industry.

Healthcare Executive Consulting

Healthcare is moving towards a consumer-focused, value-driven approach but it can be difficult for organizations to keep up with the latest trends while also not falling victim to letting trends influence decision-making more than what is prudent. This is forcing them to redefine leadership roles to improve their responses, as well as to drive innovation. As a thought leader in the field of managed healthcare solutions, Schaffer shared his views on two of the newer roles: innovation officer and population health officer.

Chief Innovation Officer

The established view of the role of an innovation officer is that it means taking a fresh look or a new perspective on the way that things have always been done. In practice, this translates to critical thinking to make sense out of healthcare processes, and relationship building to get the whole organization on board when it comes to adopting the necessary changes.

Schaffer’s take is slightly different as he believes that innovation should form an integral part of the job description of every C-suite level executive saying that, “the CEO of a health system should require that every single department head be responsible for innovation within his/her function.” And it should then be the role of the chief strategy officer to coordinate the plans for innovation across the organization. The most important take-away is that by making innovation the sole responsibility of a single executive or department, it disenfranchises or excuses the operating units from a role in organizational innovation that should be a core shared responsibility.

Population Health Officer

The population health role is becoming popular as a way for organizations to offer a more personalized, coordinated care plan for each patient. In most healthcare organizations, this will mean applying a data-driven approach to addressing the needs of their patients and partnering with others to ensure that patients receive the care they need.

Although this approach makes sense, designating a specific position that will be responsible for adopting the policy does not. As Schaffer points out in the Managed Healthcare Executive article, “Rather than create a new department of population health,” Schaffer says, “this function should reside within every operating department and driven by the department head the same as innovation. In fact, population health is only one (albeit a major one) swim lane of an enterprise strategic plan which should be the domain of the chief strategy officer. Unfortunately, facilities planning seems to take up most of the bandwidth of health system strategy departments which impedes their ability to take on what I believe is the more important responsibility of implementing population health.”

His point is that creating a new department for population health shifts the focus away from operating departments and takes the responsibility off each department head who should be focusing on population health much the same as innovation. And again, this should be overseen by a chief strategy officer who should not be focused on facilities planning, but rather the important role of implementing population health (along with innovation) which should be supported by facilities planning.

CSuite Solutions, co-founded by and Stephen R. Mason, former CEO of BayCare Health System headquartered in Tampa, FL, is a leading healthcare advisory firm with many years of experience in helping healthcare organizations define their executive roles so that both the organization and their patients benefit from an innovative, proactive, customer-focused approach to healthcare.

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