C-Suite Conversations

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Penny Wheeler: Even in value-based care, leaders of varying backgrounds can thrive

By | August 6 th,  2015 | Allina Health, health systems, Modern Healthcare, physician, providers, Blog, CEO, clinical care, collaboration, leadership, Penny Wheeler, value-based care, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


In the era of value-based care, many health systems are looking for ways in which they can develop their physicians into administrative leaders who can guide the organization, not just a physicians’ group.


While Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler, MD, can certainly relate to such endeavors, she’s not ready to brand the clinician-to-chief-executive transformation as the sole formula for all organizations.


“Some doctors are scrambling to get their MBAs, but I wonder if there is going to be a time when people who have been in the administrative ranks will get certifications in clinical care process and care model design,” says Wheeler, an obstetrician/gynecologist who has led Allina Health to a Truven Analytics ranking as one of the top large health systems in the country.


Both types of knowledge are needed in the C-suite, Wheeler says, and can come from an administrator who has an empathetic mindset and has spent time learning how to reduce clinical-care variations, or from a physician who has accumulated experience in finance and operations.


“There is a convergence these days,” she notes, “of needing to understand clinical-care models and clinical-care processes, and having the operational and financial acumen to know what kind of team you have to assemble to lead.”


The learning curve can be steep regardless of which side you begin on. Wheeler was named chief clinical officer of Allina in 2006 and freely admits it took her time to adjust.


“You can go from feeling pretty adept at doing a complex hysterectomy with a lymph-node dissection in the operating room to feeling like you don’t know how to run your email account,” she says with a laugh. “When you’re relatively good at something you trained your whole life for, and then all of a sudden you feel like you’re on a separate orbital plane, that’s hard.”


What kept her going, she says – and what led to her growth as an executive that ultimately put her in charge at Allina – was the purpose and mission she had, which did not change in the move from the exam room to the administrative offices.


“It’s just a sheer privilege that we get to be in a role where, by our actions, we can improve the lives of thousands,” Wheeler says. “That’s an incredibly fortunate position to be in.”


The opportunity to make a larger impact on communities in breadth and scope is an important consideration for physicians who are considering a move into an administrative role, she adds. Just as critical is the understanding that a clinical background provides a necessary balance in an organization’s decision-making.


“This is what turned the equation for me,” she says. “Instead of emphasizing what you don’t know yet about business or operations, emphasize what you do know. There was one time when a light bulb went on for me in a meeting of the executive leadership team. I was the only physician in the room and realized, ‘I am the only one that has been next to a patient for 20 years and knows what it feels like to provide their care when you have 23 other things going on that you need to attend to.’ ”


Wheeler’s advice for new physician leaders is just as applicable for all administrators:


Realize that you can’t do it all. “As physicians, we’re used to being the one that our patients put their trust in. But in a business environment, you really have to rely on those around you, so you need to assemble a team that thinks differently than you do and complements your skill set.”


Time is your most precious resource. “Your time is your currency. A lot of people make demands on your time and you have to think about what’s important – advancing the performance in terms of our mission – so you should spend your time on what is most impactful.”


Invite your team to be truthful. “When you get in these positions, people want you to be happy and want to highlight the good performance we’ve had. They might be more reticent to talk about where things aren’t going well or failing, so you actually have to ask for difficult messages. Invite people to be open and honest because, if they’re not, somebody’s life could be affected adversely.”


Wheeler has been instrumental in championing Allina’s collaborations with other providers, from an accountable-care alliance with HealthPartners to transitional care facilities built with Presbyterian Home & Services and Benedictine Health System.


“I really hope collaboration between systems beats out competition, so we can avoid unneeded duplication of services,” Wheeler says. “When we say we compete in healthcare, I think sometimes other countries look at us like we have an arm growing out of our head. I think that, to the extent we can do it effectively, collaboration is important. Even when you see acquisition and merger activities occurring in healthcare, I think it’s going to be more about adding complementary services across the continuum.”


Yet the transition from a fee-for-service to a value-based model brings its share of growing pains. Wheeler points to a recent program Allina developed to provide care coordination for cancer patients. In terms of care, it was a huge success – it kept 95 people from needing to be readmitted to the hospital and saved the community $1.2 million. There was just one problem: Allina lost $600,000.


“Right now, we’re in an environment where you actually lose money by doing the right things sometimes,” she says. “It is a conundrum for all of us in healthcare. I think we’re going to experience some whitewater rapids getting to where we need to be, but it will be good for the people we serve when we do.”


Still, Wheeler says, these and other winds of change stirred up by reform “make it an exciting time to be a leader. There’s no better time to be in healthcare because the sails are up in the air and you can turn this big Queen Mary of healthcare in a better direction for the people we serve.”



Who are the top hospitals in the U.S?

By | July 22 nd,  2015 | health systems, U.S. News & World Report, Blog, Top Hospitals | Add A Comment


U.S. News & World Report has released its annual rankings of the top hospitals in the U.S. Full coverage can be found here.


In the meantime, here are the rankings for the top 15 hospitals:


1. Massachusetts General Hospital


2. Mayo Clinic


3. (tie) Johns Hopkins Hospital


3. (tie) UCLA Medical Center


5. Cleveland Clinic


6. Brigham & Women's Hospital


7. New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell


8. UCSF medical Center


9. Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian


10. Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University


11. Northwestern Memorial Hospital


12. NYU Langone Medical Center


13. UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center


14. Duke University Hospital


15. Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital



Furst Group is proud to have worked with many of the nation's best hospitals and health systems.



With King vs. Burwell decided, bold leadership becomes a mandate for healthcare delivery and financing

By | June 29 th,  2015 | Furst Group, Healthcare, Supreme Court, Bob Clarke, health systems, hospitals, King, King vs. Burwell, affordable care, Blog, Burwell, CEO, leadership, transparency, quality | Add A Comment


By Bob Clarke

CEO, Furst Group


The King vs. Burwell decision once again had healthcare leaders, both payers and providers, holding their collective breath to see if years of work would be undone. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in, by a surprising 6-3 margin, to uphold the ACA and its subsidies, there still remains a lot of work to do. So the question for the healthcare industry is, how can CEOs and boards best demonstrate leadership to their organizations and their communities going forward?


Regardless of where one falls in the political debate, this decision was anxiously anticipated by all. Our industry has had more than its share of uncertainty over the years and having this decision behind us will allow for the great work that organizations have done thus far to continue. Without a doubt, patients and families are seeking access to quality care at an affordable cost, all wrapped in a package of transparency. Significant strides have been taken toward this goal but the threat of constant change and disruption of the payment system doesn’t allow an organization to focus or to plan too far ahead.


However, we have seen some leaders be very bold and stake their future on this continuing trend. They have been very proactive in creating services and pricing schemes that are consumer-oriented. Their vision has allowed for open discussions with others about potential partnerships and collaborative models. These are trends that need to continue.


These are times of uncertainty, to be sure. Bold leadership, however, seizes on this as opportunity. Teams that come together to think about what can be realized serve their organizations and constituents far better than teams that focus on market protection and guarding the status quo. The latter often find themselves holding on to a model that quickly becomes outdated and stagnant.


Patients want and deserve excellent care in a system that is far less complicated than what we have had in the past. May the evolution (or rather, the revolution) of healthcare continue and bring our delivery and financing system to a level that was only dreamed about not too long ago.



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