A New Leadership Model for Healthcare Organizations

BY Karen Springer – President and Chief Executive Officer at Saint Thomas Health.

When it comes to executive leadership, I am a firm believer that gaining a different perspective can provide the advantage needed to successfully steer an organization through any amount of change. Sometimes, we all need another mind, another set of hands, eyes or ears, to identify the appropriate solution.

That’s one goal behind Ascension’s move to the “dyad” leadership model, which brings together medical and operational experts to make patient care the best it can possibly be.

The idea is that two-person leadership teams – a clinical professional such as a nurse or physician, paired with an executive or administrative leader – will make better decisions together than they would separately. The two have equal responsibility, with each bringing a unique perspective to every decision and action.

As a part of Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system, Saint Thomas Health recently recruited neurologist Dr. Greg James as our chief clinical officer and Paul Cleckner as our chief operating officer to align our clinical services with the strategy and operations of the system. This way, we have “medical thinking” inserted into the way we run our operations, and vice versa. This alignment of operations and clinical services is key in the establishment of our clinically integrated system of care.

Traditionally, physicians and nurses were in charge of patient care, with executives and administrators overseeing the day-to-day operational side of a hospital. While the two sides of the street certainly communicated and worked together, lines of responsibility and authority were distinct, causing a silo effect. In addition to creating obstacles to coordination, these silos often obscured the strategy and thought process behind decisions, creating an environment where one side might never know what the other was thinking or why they were making changes.

Today, however, is a new era in healthcare – the result of sweeping industry changes over the past decade. Saint Thomas Health, and all of Ascension for that matter, is moving to a more integrated care delivery system focused on prevention, early detection and treatment.

That means striving to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital rather than basing most of our services there, as we’ve done in the past. Alignment of our clinical services and medical staff relations with our strategy and operations is vital in the establishment of our clinically integrated system of care.

The dyad approach has expanded throughout Saint Thomas Health, reaching the leadership of physician practices, service lines and more. Strong medical and operational alignment supports our goal to deliver exceptional health outcomes and an exceptional experience for the people we serve and providers at an affordable cost.

Notably, hospitals now are moving to being paid by the value they provide patient populations – not just by the volume of services they provide – meaning, more than ever before, we must have clinical leaders at the table to ensure that every decision we make supports our commitment to compassionate, personalized care.

Ascension is leading the way to bring together the best in clinical thinking with the best in executive thinking, for the best in patient care. We expect to see more healthcare systems move to this model as part of the changes in the national landscape.

After all, perspective matters. We believe this is the right approach to break down silos and deliver what our patients need most – compassionate, personalized care for all, with special attention to people living in poverty and those most vulnerable.