As the supervisor of a clinical engineering department, I often felt as if there was a chasm between the front office or C-suite (where the CEO, COO, CFO, and other top executives reside), and my department in the basement. For a long time, I simply attributed this disconnect to the multiple layers of bureaucracy between the C-suite level and mine. Time and time again, I felt like I was reacting to organizational challenges that could have been mitigated had I or one of my technicians been involved earlier.
After attending a graduate program in health and business administration, I developed a deeper appreciation for the causes of this disconnect between clinical engineering, or healthcare technology management (HTM), departments and the C-suites that lead them.
My research suggested that contributing factors to this problem include the specialization and relatively young age of the HTM field; a lack of publishing in healthcare management journals by clinical engineering authors; the problem of healthcare administration programs not offering much in the way of clinical engineering; and the quiet, modest nature of many HTM professionals. As a result, many healthcare executives are unaware of the full value that clinical engineering can bring to the organization—and HTM professionals are not always adept at educating these executives.
To address this challenge, here are three DOs and DON’Ts for engaging your organization’s C-suite:
DO familiarize yourself with the names of everyone in your C-suite. Learn what is important to them. What are their strategic goals? What kind of budget year is it? Is your organization expanding or contracting? Knowing the answers to these questions will help your department better anticipate and address the needs of your organization.
DO report your performance in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand manner geared toward a non-technical audience. Use dashboards, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other visual indicators to illustrate performance. Go beyond reporting compliance and the standard metrics. Show customer satisfaction scores. Use benchmarks. Always speak to the bottom line.
DO have a presence on committees and councils where there are healthcare technology implications. Invest the time to ensure that you or one of your team members are involved in IT systems integration, project planning, patient safety initiatives, and even strategic planning. You’ll know you are successful if your hospital hesitates to make a move without having HTM at the table.
DON’T passively wait for the C-suite or other hospital senior leaders to make contact with you. Advocate upwards. Advocating is different than whining. Make sure that the organization is aware of your needs, listens to your recommendations, and respects your guidance related to healthcare technology. Responding to a crisis shouldn’t be the only time you are asked to speak to the C-suite.
DON’T present your metrics in a way that only engineers or other technical minded folks understand. I’ve seen senior leadership’s eyes glaze over during the reporting of what we thought were important HTM metrics. Use visual indicators and connect the dots for the audience. Use C-suite lingo instead of engineering terms. Tell them why the metrics matter—and what you are doing to improve them. Suggest how additional resources might help you achieve specific goals.
DON’T forget to celebrate your successes. HTM Week is an excellent opportunity once a year to educate your senior leadership and organization on the value that HTM departments bring. Submit an article to your employee/hospital newsletter—or start your own newsletter! Proactive communication tools can be a way to not only share information with internal stakeholders but also promote your own value in a non-direct way.
The bottom line is that the more your hospital is aware of the knowledge, skills, services, and overall value that your department offers, the more likely you will be to get the resources and support you need to maximize outcomes. This will allow you to improve access and quality while reducing risk and costs.
Valdez Bravo is an administrative fellow in the Graduate Healthcare Administration Training Program with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), working at the VA Portland Health Care System. An experienced healthcare technology management (HTM) professional, he is leading a session June 8 on “engaging the C-suite” at the AAMI Annual Conference & Expo in Denver.