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5 skills every executive must have

April 27, 2016

Sweeping changes in behavioral healthcare have caused many organizations to make fundamental adjustments in the way they operate. CEOs are charged with leading the new direction and often need to react quickly to changing circumstances.

According to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers 19th Annual CEO Survey released in 2016, 66% of healthcare CEOs are making significant changes in how they leverage technology, including using social media, online reporting and data analytics to communicate with payers, patients and other stakeholders. The survey also found that healthcare CEOs thought regulation (84%) and the availability of key skills (74%) were top risks within the industry. Being able to juggle short term stability with long term growth are skills that behavioral healthcare CEOs need to continually develop, says Gary Humble, executive director of Pinnacle Partners in Cleveland, Ohio.

“We need to be like an old time captain of a ship,” Humble says. “We have to keep one eye on the horizon and one hand on the wheel. We have to look at the big picture.”

He says the infrastructure of the organization—the clinical and administrative pieces—must be in unison.

To satisfy the needs of multiple stakeholders, behavioral healthcare CEOs must be able to adapt organizational values in a balanced way.

1. Embrace technology

An increased emphasis on technology in the behavioral healthcare setting is a benefit to high-level administration, staff, patients and their caregivers, says Paul Auchterlonie, CEO of Decision Point Center, which has three locations in Arizona.

“We are a more technologically dependent culture, but are old school about it when it comes to treatment,” he says. “There are still a lot of places that don’t allow cell phones, and it adds to patients feeling isolated.”

Decision Point also allows patients to Skype with their families at night, Auchterlonie says, adding that as more millennials enter treatment facilities, communicating with them digitally will have to become the norm.

Jim Kane, CEO of Summit Behavioral Health, says that prioritizing digital solutions and deciding where they fit has to come from the C-suite.

“There is a wealth and almost overwhelming amount of information online, and weeding through this data can be a full-time job unto itself,” Kane says.

His facility uses smart phone recovery apps and electronic incident reports based on evidence-based treatment modalities. He says that he personally reviews trends in healthcare innovation and encourages his staff to learn more about how technology can streamline processes.

“All of these programs came from review of current literature, partnering with pioneering healthcare technology organizations, attending webinar or in-person educational programming, web-based searches and reviews of other organizations’ programming and outcome data,” Kane says.

2. Encourage program innovation

Revamping behavioral healthcare programming for patients is critical in order for treatment centers to attract patients outside of direct referral sources, Humble says. Developing expertise in new treatment modalities that address the changing needs of patients will help with customizing treatment, he says.

“The idea of hanging on to what’s tried and true in behavioral healthcare isn’t effective. What’s true for some may not be true for others. We have to think of what it means to meet the needs of the patients and not just the organization,” Humble says.

Auchterlonie says that his treatment center has developed two-week programming as a trial period for patients. From there, patients and their caregivers can decide on a course of treatment that varies in length, program content and inpatient/ outpatient settings.

“We are dealing with people who need treatment within the mild, medium, moderate and severe spectrum,” he says. “So we need innovation in programming to meet the needs of that range.”

3. Get in tune with staff

To get a better understanding of how his staff operates, Kane says he ditched his corporate office.

“By doing so, I am able to spend more time at all of my locations, sometimes setting up office in a cafeteria,” he says. “This has given me the ability to be on the front line with my team, interact with patients, families and professional referral sources.”

Though Kane says he values technology for communication, being able talk directly with staff gives him a better understanding of the landscape of his treatment facilities.

“The majority of the new and innovative changes that I have been able to implement have come from face-to-face contacts and observations while being with those that I serve and work with,” Kane says. “To me, no technology can replace direct human contact.”

Kane also says he understands that the changing clinical and regulatory environment of behavioral healthcare can sometimes cause staff to be uncertain, so setting long-term goals that help them develop in their areas of expertise is also important.

“I have found that you need to be perpetually challenging and supportive of your clinical and senior management team in order to embrace continuous quality improvement and service excellence,” Kane says.

4. Understand patient needs

At the crux of any treatment center is the patient, and CEOs need to take an honest look at whether patients are being treated in the best way, says Auchterlonie. As healthcare services become more consumer-centric, there must be a renewed focus on what patients value individually.

“Our industry does not do a good job at respecting patients. A lot of people don’t understand what it means to be welcome into a treatment center and get their needs met in a real way,” Auchterlonie says.

He believes that the diversity of patients seeking treatment calls for more individualized programming, and having a multidimensional, integrated approach is truly essential.

“Our programs have to be inclusive to those dealing with emotional, physical and sexual trauma; sexual orientation; and individuals with various financial situations,” he  says.

It’s a tall order. Treatment center CEOs have to be creative in keeping services both comprehensive and affordable for patients.

“We are not and should not just be serving wealthy families,” Auchterlonie says. “We need to be proactive when it comes to maintaining affordability and still having good business.”

5. Have patience

CEOs agree that patience is a crucial attribute needed to bring change to any organization.

“As a CEO, you are a primary driver of change for an organization, but moving fast isn’t always realistic,” Auchterlonie says. “Underneath any strategic goal, we must understand that change takes longer than we believe it should.”

Humble says that big changes in reimbursement, coding, staff requirements, patient needs and new programming can’t happen overnight if they are to be successful. A methodical, managed approach is required with the support of key staff.

“These can be very unsettling times. Figuring out what needs to be done is a process. So making change happen in bite size pieces is important,” Humble says.

Donna Marbury is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

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