After many years in the telehealth business, with much of it spent out in the field working directly with our customers, I noticed a trend out of the most successful ones. The attribute that makes them successful is one of the same attributes that make any program successful — strong leadership.
More specifically, I believe the common denominator in successful programs is courageous leadership. The first of Aristotle’s moral virtues is courage, and I think he describes this attribute well. He says, “The courageous man withstands and fears those things which it is necessary to fear and withstand and on account of the right reason, and how and when it is necessary to fear or withstand them, and likewise in the case of being bold.”
Courageous leaders know how to be bold without being reckless and he or she does it for the right reasons. This gives them the conviction to be courageous.
Recognition of Changes in Healthcare
Healthcare changes slowly and deliberately. Ultimately, change is required to achieve the benefits of a telehealth program. This is true whether the benefits are cost reduction, increased clinical productivity, improvement in patient care, or any of the other potential benefits. If people continue to provide and consume care the same way, things will not change, and the benefits will not be realized. Changing behavior is challenging, and it takes a courageous leader to drive that change.
Here are some examples of changes that may be required. Nurses who are accustomed to providing care in person will need to start providing care remotely. Or, an organization will need to allow their telehealth partner to provide that care directly. IT organizations may need to let a telehealth provider into their EMR to allow the free flow of information between systems. Payers may need to change to provide prior authorizations for care to comply with Medicaid laws. Changes abound in a successful telehealth program, which is exactly the point! Driving that change often requires courageous leadership.
That courage is not just being bold. The leader of the program must also know when to show restraint. Healthcare changes slowly for good reason, although much more slowly than many of us would like. Regardless, the leaders of the most successful programs know when to push and when to pull back and wait for results. Sometimes you only get one chance to convince the people who need to change.
Aside from courageous leadership, I have noticed other commonalities. Most successful programs are run by clinicians, either a nurse or a doctor. This brings a number of benefits from a change management perspective. Strong subject matter expertise is important to motivate a largely independent workforce, as well as influence within the organization.
I’ve found a largely common trait among clinical leadership, as well, which is empathy. The ability to see the required changes from the perspective of others is a key to success. The bulldog or “walk through walls” leadership style does not fare as well in these situations. Also, being “right” has almost no bearing on success; the leader has to see things from multiple perspectives and influence people to get on board with the changes.
Also, almost every leader that I’ve worked with on successful telehealth programs has demonstrated the willingness to dive into the details and directly participate in the planning and execution of the program. This includes areas where they have no direct experience or expertise. I’ve seen clinical leaders roll up their sleeves and get into the details of a technical discussion on EMR integration when it’s necessary to move a program forward.
The ability to be decisive with limited information is key. Clinicians and caregivers typically have a long history of making important decisions with limited information. Often, there is no time in the planning and execution of a program to analyze every aspect of every decision.
Leaders must balance the need to be bold with the need to be restrained. And, they must have the courage to do both. I’ve found that leaders with a background of making clinical decisions with respect to a person’s health are particularly capable of hitting the right balance.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of these leaders directly. I had the pleasure of working directly with Dr. Kristi Henderson, formerly of the University of Mississippi Medical Center and now with Ascension. Dr. Henderson exemplifies the traits above. She had the courage to get the law passed that would fund telehealth statewide, and she drove the change necessary to get the program off the ground at UMMC. This has created a lasting effect on the industry that is still felt today. Here’s one example of that legacy.
Another individual that exhibited courageous leadership in the advancement of telehealth is Dr. Jim Lancaster, an internist, and executive with Cigna-HealthSpring. Dr. Lancaster was a pioneer in this area by bringing remote care to heart failure patients in sometimes very rural areas of Tennessee. He exhibited all of the leadership traits above, especially the consistent willingness to jump into whatever challenge we faced, whether it be clinical, logistical, technical or other.
It has been and continues to be very rewarding to see the changes in this industry to improve the cost and quality of healthcare. And, I feel fortunate to work alongside the courageous leaders that are making the change happen every day in Healthcare.
About Bryan Pruden
Chief Financial Officer, Care Innovations
Bryan Pruden is the Chief Financial Officer for Care Innovations. In his role as CFO, Bryan directs all financial aspects of the business, including planning, reporting, compliance, and controls. In addition to the traditional financial roles, Bryan also directs the program office for the company where he is responsible for all customer implementations worldwide. Bryan has been with Care Innovations since shortly after the formation of the company and has been responsible for new product and platform launches across multiple markets, commercial operations, manufacturing, supply chain, customer support and Information Technology for the company. Bryan brings a passion for changing the healthcare industry through new models that leverage technology. He has spent his entire time with Care Innovations working directly with customers, clinicians and patients in the field.
Bryan joined Care Innovations with over 20 years’ experience in financial and operational roles in both large and small companies. Bryan has held senior positions at multiple companies that are leaders in their respective industries, including 11 years at Intel in a variety of strategic planning and leadership roles. In addition, Bryan brings the experience of holding CFO and COO roles at multiple startup companies.
Bryan received a Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Mississippi and a Master of Business Administration with honors at Indiana University. He is actively involved in his community having served in leadership roles on multiple community boards, and he is a founding member of a local charitable organization.