Industry Spotlight: The Chief of Staff in Health Care

Although the “Chief of Staff” title has been around health care for quite some time ­– often referring to a chairperson of the Medical Staff – there is increasing interest by the health care industry for the role we know as the corporate Chief of Staff (COS): the “right hand” of a company executive whose primary responsibilities are to ensure that the executive is focused on strategic priorities instead of getting side-tracked by the details of daily operations. We are excited to see the increasing interest as we believe the COS role is perfect (might we say, “Prime”) for the health care industry.

Health care delivery transformations and innovations are now moving at an accelerated pace – and while other industries may be accustomed to this rapid pace, the health care industry historically hasn’t been. Rapid advances in technology, supported by government mandates for technology adoption, along with increasing pressure to do more with less (i.e., improve quality and satisfaction at a lower cost), has brought a new sense of urgency to the phrase “getting things done.” Additionally, hospital and health system mergers and new models for the delivery of care have led to a need for broader leadership in terms of both span of responsibility as well as geography.

One benefit of the COS role is that the job description is not “one size fits all.” And while that can be confusing at times, it is beneficial in that the hiring executives are able to create a role that best addresses the organization’s specific needs along with their own. Here are a few examples of where we are seeing the COS role emerge in health care and what general responsibilities might look like (again, the COS role is very dynamic and often quite unique):

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Additional settings include health-care-focused professional services firms such as AVIA Health, Advisory Board, Change Healthcare, Cognizant, and IQVIA.

Regardless of the specific requirements and responsibilities, and very much in line with non-health-care industry COS roles, it is essential that the COS:

  1. Gain the trust of the Executive.

  2. Ensure the Executive is prioritizing and working on the most important items for the organization.

  3. Keep the Executive accountable to commitments and, simultaneously, keep other leadership and management teams accountable for their results.

  4. Be the Executive’s eyes and ears of the organization.

  5. Ensure consistent, clear, and concise communication from the Executive’s office.

  6. Serve as a partner to the Executive, providing guidance and counsel on key topics with a willingness and ability to provide both ideas and solutions and their sound execution.

  7. Aid and assist in assessing operational risks as well as growth opportunities and identify ways to mitigate/capitalize as appropriate.

  8. Handle sensitive projects and matters for the Executive that transcend the day-to-day work environment.

We understand that the health care industry continues to face increasing financial pressure, so it may sound counterintuitive to add another full-time equivalent (FTE) to the mix, especially in the Provider and Payer settings where scrutiny on overhead costs, particularly on administrative and operational needs, are ever-present. However, a Chief of Staff, when given the appropriate description, responsibilities, and trust, will enhance and accelerate the executive’s abilities to focus on necessary strategies and find an invaluable return on this investment.