Florian Otto is CEO and co-founder of Cedara leading healthcare financial technology platform that transforms the consumer financial experience
Being a doctor can be extremely rewarding as you usually see the fruits of your labor almost immediately – from a transplant gone well to safely delivering a healthy baby. But it also has its limitations.
In general, you can only treat one patient at a time, since you only have two hands (and 24 hours a day). I struggled with this early in my career as a maxillofacial surgeon. While I enjoyed working with patients, I found myself wanting to make more of an impact. That’s how I ended up with the business side of healthcare.
While the decision to leave the medical field after years of training may seem surprising, it is becoming more and more common. The “Great Resignation” of medicine is upon us one in five general practitioners indicating that they are likely to leave their current practice within two years, mainly due to Covid-19 related burnout. This comes at the same time as the demand for physician leaders is growing venture capital continues to flow into digital health (albeit at a slower pace than a few years ago), and more organizations are seeking a physician’s perspective in the C-Suite.
There were many things I had to “unlearn” as a doctor, especially when it came to taking risks. The healthcare system tends to be risk averse, and rightly so; when it comes to patient care, clinicians are trained to follow proven protocols and use evidence-based medicine. Speaking from personal experience, these habits can be hard to break. That said, it is invaluable for an organization to have a clinician’s perspective when they are challenged to create something that can make the work of practicing physicians and healthcare professionals easier and more efficient.
As a former physician and now CEO, I wanted to share a few observations I’ve made throughout my career for both practicing physicians and organizations seeking to tap into this talent pool for leadership positions.
The swing door
When it comes to caring for patients, decisions are often one-way traffic and difficult to reverse. While there may be multiple treatment options, emergencies require quick thinking with dire consequences associated with every decision.
One-way doors also exist in business, such as selling your business or quitting your job. However, there are many more “two-way doors” where decisions can be reversed, even if they are (or feel) important. Ironically, decisions don’t always involve significant business risk, but can feel extremely risky in a healthcare environment. That’s something you learn over time as you hone your management skills.
The patient experience is full of opportunities for two-way doors that can bring outrageous rewards. Small optimizations, such as a billing reminder time change, can tell you a lot about what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to helping consumers navigate their care journey.
The Consumer Center
As a medical professional, your primary job is to care for patients, and a great clinical experience can build trust and loyalty in a healthcare provider. But patient loyalty is not just about the care experience. More than 90% of consumers say the quality of the billing and payment experience in particular plays an important role in whether they return to a healthcare provider. The same can be said for all aspects of the care journey. On the business side of healthcare, a consumer-centric approach can help foster and maintain patient loyalty. After all, they are your customers.
Suppose a consumer has several disparate interactions with both their provider and payer regarding billing during a single healthcare visit. This can be phone calls, apps or web portals. Nobody talks to each other. It makes sense to have different business entities serve different parts of the value chain; payers and providers have different roles. However, they must remember that they have the same customer. Working together can lead to better customer satisfaction – a win for everyone.
Small changes lead to big impact
Following guidelines and scientific evidence is paramount as a physician. While there are always opportunities for new discoveries and innovative treatments, many doctors stick to the status quo. After all, it has been proven to help achieve the best results. This can also make the work quite redundant and difficult to innovate, something I have experienced as a surgeon.
When you look at retail, corporate banking and air travel, technology has revolutionized the consumer experience, making processes simpler, faster and more affordable. But healthcare has been particularly slow to innovate. When Steve Jobs delivered his keynote introducing the original iPhone, most hospitals still used paper and fax machines. It wasn’t until the Affordable Care Act that the US health care system began to modernize its technology.
Scaling innovation can pose challenges in a large enterprise market, especially in healthcare. At an event my company co-hosted for healthcare executives, I learned that the health systems that have seen the most success separate function from day-to-day operations. This type of work has different (but equally important) success metrics and must be able to remain flexible. That’s why it’s incredibly important to unlearn those risk-averse tendencies and embrace a willingness to fail and get back up and try again.
Helping patients is an experience like no other. Moving away from the hands-on side of healthcare may mean fewer direct interactions with patients and less exposure to the tangible results of your work, but the impact you make simply takes on different forms. You just need to know where to look, be it the stats, the goals achieved or any other way you don’t know yet.
I don’t believe moving into the business side of healthcare makes your job any less important. It may even offer opportunities to positively influence patients on a larger scale. In addition, you can use your knowledge and experience at the bedside to your advantage when developing technology or designing a product.
Anyone considering a similar career move should weigh what they value most, think about the impact they want to make, and understand that innovation and improvement can happen anywhere, whether you’re wearing a cap and suit or a suit and tie.