Florian Otto is CEO & co-founder of Cedar, an enterprise healthcare engagement platform that improves the consumer financial journey.
Being a doctor can be extremely rewarding as you typically see the fruits of your labor almost immediately—from a transplant gone right to safely delivering a healthy baby. But, it also has its limitations.
Generally speaking, you can only treat one patient at a time as 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 a bigger impact. This led me to the business side of healthcare.
While the decision to leave the medical field after years of training may seem surprising, it’s increasingly common. Medicine’s “Great Resignation” is upon us, with one in five physicians indicating they will likely leave their current practice within two years, primarily due to Covid-19-related burnout. This comes at the same time when demand for physician leaders is growing as venture capital continues to flow into digital health (albeit at a slower rate than a few years ago), and more organizations seek a clinician’s perspective in the C-Suite.
There were many things I needed to “unlearn” as a physician, particularly when it came to risk-taking. The healthcare system tends to be risk-averse, and for good reason; 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 unlearn. That said, it’s invaluable for an organization to have the perspective of a clinician when challenged with creating something that can make practicing physicians’ and healthcare professionals’ jobs easier and more efficient.
As a former doctor and now CEO, I wanted to share a few observations I’ve made throughout my career for both practicing doctors and organizations looking to tap into this talent pool for leadership positions.
The Swinging Door
When caring for patients, decisions are often one-way doors and difficult to reverse. While multiple treatment options may exist, emergency situations require quick thinking with serious consequences tied to any decision.
One-way doors also exist in business—like selling your company or quitting your job. There are, however, many more “two-way doors” where decisions can be reversed, even if they are (or feel) momentous. Ironically, decisions may not always carry significant business risk, but can feel extremely risky in a healthcare setting. 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 reap outsized rewards. For example, small optimizations—i.e., a change in billing reminder time—can tell you a lot about what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to helping consumers navigate their healthcare journey.
The Consumer Center
As a medical professional, your primary role is to care for patients, and a great clinical experience can build trust and loyalty in a provider. But patient loyalty isn’t 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 healthcare journey. On the business side of healthcare, a consumer-centric approach can help foster and maintain patient loyalty. After all, they are your customers.
For example, say a consumer has several, disparate interactions during a single healthcare visit with both their provider and payer about billing. This can include phone calls, apps or web portals. No one is talking to each other. It makes sense to have different business entities service different parts of the value chain; payers and providers have different roles. However, they must remember that they have the same customer. Collaborating can lead to better rates of consumer satisfaction—a win for everyone.
Small Changes Lead To Big Impact
Following guidelines and scientific evidence is of the utmost importance as a physician. While there are always opportunities for new discoveries and innovative treatments, many physicians stick to the status quo. After all, it’s what is proven to help achieve the best results. This can also make the work quite redundant and difficult to innovate—something I experienced as a surgeon.
If you look at retail, commercial banking and air travel, technology has revolutionized the consumer experience, making processes easier, faster and more affordable. But healthcare has been particularly slow to innovate. When Steve Jobs gave his keynote introducing the original iPhone, most hospitals were still using paper and fax machines. It really wasn’t until the Affordable Care Act that U.S. healthcare began modernizing its technology.
Scaling innovation can present challenges in a large enterprise market—particularly healthcare. While at an event that my company co-hosted for healthcare executives, I found that the health systems that have seen the most success separate the function from day-to-day operations. This kind 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 unlike any other. Moving away from the practice side of healthcare may mean fewer direct interactions with patients and less exposure to the tangible outcomes from your work, but the impact you make, however, just takes different forms. You simply must know where to look—whether it’s the metrics, goals met or another way you don’t know yet.
I don’t believe that moving to the business side of healthcare makes your work any less important. In fact, it can offer opportunities to positively impact patients at a greater scale. What’s more, you can use your bedside knowledge and experience to your advantage when developing technology or designing a product.
Anyone considering a similar career shift should weigh what they value most, consider the impact they wish to make and understand that innovation and improvement can happen anywhere, whether you don a surgical cap and scrubs or a business suit and tie.