For over 14 years, the University of St Thomas hosts an annual Future of Health Care conference. Attended by physician and administrative leaders from large health systems, single and multi-specialty clinics, researchers, and leaders from payer organizations, it is a thought provoking day of speakers about all things health care.

This year, all of the sessions were delivered by panels of professionals, coming from different environments and organizations, revealing the common challenges and unique issues of the different businesses within health care. What follows are my take-aways. To be clear, there are other critical issues but these are the leadership issues I hear about often with health care leaders. There are no easy answers, but leadership matters to making progress. No leader can single-handedly solve these. They require collaboration, compassion, dialog, creativity, and open-mindedness, critical leadership characteristics and competencies, even more important right now than ever before.

1. Health care delivery organizations are short-staffed and staff continues to show signs and symptoms of burn-out. Many are a resilient bunch but they need practical, on-site physical and psychological care. Leaders are trying to be creative and thoughtful but no one sees an end to the triggers for the extraordinary stress for staff. Leaders must lead from the heart to provide support and compassion. This is taxing to the leaders, too. Yet, leaders must be psychological present, healthy, and resilient. If you are not able to demonstrate this, your technical smarts and competence will not be enough.

2. While Covid brought much disruption to health care delivery and services, there were some good things. Early months of the pandemic are still seen as refreshing in that decisions and execution of those decisions had to made quickly and decisively, even without data as to what would happen in the long run. Leaders from all of the large, local health systems in the Twin Cities worked together weekly, busting up organizational competition and silo’s for the good of the people of this state. This cooperation, not only between systems but between payers, providers, and consumers must continue to resolve both cost, accessibility, and quality of care issues.

3. DEI—all three, not just Diversity—must be integrated and become a part of doing business. It is good for business and even better for individuals, which then makes it even better for organizations. Diversity exists in all walks of life, including personality style. Inclusion needs to be actively demonstrated, and demonstrated differently to different folks who psychological and social needs differ greatly. Those “in power” must take accountability for driving the reform of inequitable systems and practices. However, those who health care wants to serve must be included as transformations occur. Doing “to” others, even if well-meaning, isn’t going to work.

4. Our differences – in issues surrounding personal freedom vs. social responsibility or research-backed science vs. alternative facts, are impacting staff and patients. These larger issues impact “narrower” decisions about vaccinations, HR policies, and even how we communicate and solve problems together. And, our collective inability to disagree and discuss respectfully, learn from one another, come to a resolution to act, and willingness to accept organizational decisions one doesn’t agree with, seems to be only making leadership harder.

The Future of Health Care conference dealt with more than this—trends in health care, digital transformation, data collection, supply chain challenges, Informatics, and even new directions in Medicaid/Medicare. But, leadership matters to how all of these issues get studied, discussed and resolved. There are truly no easy or “right” answers but as a leader, you must find a way to balance and improve the lives of your clinicians/staff, patients, quality, and your bottom line. The Bailey Group can help.

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