Christopher J Hutchins, VP, Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Northwell Health
I was recently asked “what one thing would I tell someone who aspires to move in to a leadership role in the field of healthcare analytics?” After considerable thought I believe that the answer is somewhat intuitive for most, and yet it is one that can easily be missed if one’s individual career growth is the primary objective.
Becoming an effective leader in this field requires one to understand some keys that can lead to tremendous success for an individual and more importantly an organization. In my opinion, the most important is to understand that you are in a very complex organization that cannot function effectively without numerous teams of experts working together with a clear focus on providing the best possible care to every patient. One measure of effective leadership is the level of success that one enables teams and individuals to achieve rather than what they can accomplish on their own. It takes dedicated professionals across multiple disciplines to make it all work.
Consider the multiple disciplines and specialties of clinical care that each take career level focus. Oncology is one example where clinicians specialize in treating very specific types of cancer. Internal Medicine is another with specialties like Endocrinology, Infectious Disease, Gastroenterology and many others. This pattern also exists in administrative, financial and operational functions. The disciplines within these areas are not interchangeable and all are required to provide the full range of services in a successful healthcare organization. Within each of these areas there are also leaders and staff who monitor, understand, analyze and respond to data that is generated to support the functions within their purview. If your background is anything like mine, you probably have expertise in one or more of these areas but it is impossible to be an expert in all of them. Even if it were possible to master all of them, there are too many critical aspects of a health system for a single team to monitor let alone an individual. My suggestion is to focus on developing strategies that enable experts in their respective verticals to optimize their functions with effective analytics.
Developing effective strategies takes significant time investment to understand the goals of the organization, its leaders, and key stakeholders. Identifying leaders and key stakeholders to begin learning what the most pressing priorities are is a good place to start.
Identifying leaders and key stakeholders to begin learning what the most pressing priorities are is a good place to start
Unless in your role you are responsible to develop the enterprise strategy, I would suggest starting this within your department with its leadership and build on that. This may identify some quick wins and hopefully some significant challenges. While it may be well beyond what you can quickly deliver, this is exactly what you should look for. These scenarios are often the best opportunity to engage other leaders and experts. In nearly 30 years working in healthcare I cannot recall an instance where I was rebuffed when seeking another’s expertise to solve a business problem. This can produce good solutions and, more importantly, establish collaborative relationships that will be invaluable to you and the organization. Even in cases where I felt confident that I knew the best way forward I found great benefit in seeking this input.
Approaching this when you are responsible for enterprise analytic strategy requires a similar approach on a much larger scale with additional components. On this level it is essential to gather and collate all of the information gathered from leaders to begin to identify common themes and potential areas where the priorities may overlap. You should work with your executive leader to summarize and vet your findings with the goal of providing an executive summary that can be shared with the leaders that you gathered the information from. Where there is a shared mission between these leaders it is likely that there will be some potential projects that emerge from this that you can then elicit their input on to set initial priorities. These priorities provide a starting point from which to engage leaders and teams to formulate approaches to address the business objectives. It is important to engage subject matter experts and those with oversight responsibility for the key data domains. You should do this whether or not you have expertise in these areas as you will need these leaders and teams to deliver solutions that are well designed and trusted. In particular, where decisions will need to be made, it is important not to step in to the decision maker role but to facilitate the dialogue that enables the decisions. Obtaining and retaining the buy in of experts and leaders is essential. Failure to achieve this at best results in solutions that are not trusted or used. Further, it results in barriers to delivering on business priorities and thereby stifles your ability to do your job. As stated earlier, enabling others to be successful is essential if the organization is to meet its core mission. Your effectiveness and success is not only linked to the success of others but it depends on it if you are to be the leader that you aspire to be.
I am sure that you have noticed that technology, dashboards and flashy presentations have not been a focal point here. They are certainly important to delivering effective analytics and may garner a lot of enthusiasm. While these outputs can look flashy and official, they may not provide meaningful or actionable insights. These tools and technologies can only be truly valuable when the experts in your organization can work together to harness all of the available data to derive actionable insights. Being an effective analytics leader in healthcare is as much about people and relationships as it is about the outputs that analytic efforts produce.
When you can enable the dozens of experts in your organization to deliver transformational insights you become a force multiplier. This is exactly what you should aim to achieve. It comes back to the focus on providing the best care to patients. You can be a part of enabling your organization to provide the best possible care and experience for each and every individual that interacts with your health system. When you or someone you care about is in need of clinical care, you will of course want everyone involved with that experience to have access to the best possible information and insight that enables the best possible outcome. If you can keep a clear focus on this goal and work with members of your organization to develop and implement strategies to support it, you will have a very measurable impact. At the very least you will establish yourself as someone who is a great teammate, a collaborator, facilitator and go to person. You will gain a reputation for getting things done. Demonstrating this kind of leadership will open doors of opportunity within your current role and will undoubtedly lead to greater career opportunities in time. In short, become a force multiplier by enabling others to be successful.