Why more doctors should be managing hospitals

CEO Drs

Atop every hospital is the CEO. As one might expect, these individuals have a wide array of important responsibilities, including managing employee retention, helping with the financial components and ensuring the organization has an outlook that cultivates success.

"Just 5% of hospital CEO positions nationwide are held by doctors."

For so many in the healthcare industry, doctors seem like the most logical choice to fill these CEO positions. Yet as Modern Healthcare explained, only 5 percent of hospital CEOs nationwide are doctors. Those hospitals that are run by doctors often benefit in ways that some other organizations never get to.

A perfect mix of skills

In April 2015, the American College of Physician Executives released a report entitled "The Value of Physician Leadership." Among the many reasons they offer for moving doctors into CEOs, one of the most compelling is courtesy of Maureen Bisognano, from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. She believes that doctors provide two key advantages: an endless sense of curiosity and a person with first-hand knowledge of what high-quality healthcare should include. It's those elements together, Bisognano explained, that helps facilitate innovation in healthcare. And CEOs must always have this sense of progressiveness, as it helps keep hospitals competitive, including in how to treat patients and deal with logistic and financial issues.

The proper level of experience

According to Becker's Hospital Review, there isn't enough research available regarding clinical outcomes of physician-led hospitals versus other hospitals. However, in 2011, there was a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine that offered some intriguing data: In hospitals with doctors as CEOs, overall quality scores were 25 percent higher. Speaking with BHR, lead author Amanda Goodall explained that while this doesn't represent a casual relationship, it's important nonetheless. This dynamic shows how important simple clinical experience can be for leading a hospital, and running a hospital takes certain insights that doctors have over other administrators. Those leaders with a nonmedical background often don't grasp the nuanced challenges of your average hospital setting.

Untapped wells of credibility

Dr. Toby Cosgrove is the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. Speaking with the Harvard Business Review in December 2016, Cosgrove said that CEO doctors like himself offer a form of peer-to-peer credibility. That is, doctors are more willing to listen to or heed advice from CEOs who have the same background or experience in medicine. This connection is not only essential to doctor-to-doctor relationships but colors how these CEOs operate. They don't have the same mindset as your average administrator, and the decisions they make might emphasize the areas where doctors have the most interest, like technological development or patient relations. The HBR added that this could put the CEO at odds with donors and stakeholders, but those same risks exist no matter the CEO's background.

The core of any good leader

In her accompanying report from the 2011 study, Dr. Goodall wrote that "leaders should first be experts in the core business of their organizations." So while there is compelling arguments about why doctors make the best CEOs, it's clear that at least having medical knowledge is essential to effective CEOs. This means that patient care and proper medicine will always be the driving forces of those hospitals built to succeed.