The New Healthcare CFO: Agent of Change

There’s a new sheriff in town. The chief financial officer’s role in healthcare is becoming even more important, as CEOs increasingly depend on them to help shape overall strategy amid changing regulations, new competitors, and increasing mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity.

With the right skills, strategy, and technology, healthcare CFOs can help drive transformation and shift the finance function from crunching numbers to delivering actionable insights that help providers improve outcomes and sustain growth.

Be a Great Collaborator

People are the heart of a healthcare provider’s operations, and finance must partner across the organization to better understand how each function operates and allocates their resources. By understanding the different needs of each function across the organization, you can maintain a strong pulse and better deliver critical information that impacts business performance and patient outcomes. This requires great communication skills.

Working closely with key areas of operations will provide more visibility into outcomes and risks.

“The CFO used to be the person in the organization who knew the most about the financial state of the business and could choose how to share this knowledge,” explains Chris Pass, chief financial officer at John Muir Health. “Today, the CFO needs to be more transparent and make financial information available to other departments so they can operate more efficiently, make decisions more quickly, and do the right thing sooner.”

Additionally, working closely with key areas of operations, such as human resources and those running the supply chain, will provide more visibility into outcomes and risks. “There are opportunities to change what we do and provide greater value to the organization—focusing more on the business needs, understanding the business better, and becoming more of an analyst and less of an accountant,” advises Rob McMurray, vice president of finance, supply chain, and corporate controller at Christiana Care.

Uncover the Right Insights

As a CFO, you’re charged with managing the organization’s finances—monitoring its cash flows and bond rating—and identifying ways to maintain margins. This can be challenging given the shift to value-based reimbursements, which requires increasing efficiencies without negatively impacting the patient experience.

Finance is no longer just about the numbers.

To uncover the right insights, you need to be able to combine financial, workforce, and utilization data with clinical data in a unified system for a comprehensive view of the organization. More importantly, you must also be able to dig into the data to understand challenges in specific locations or parts of the operation.

Sandy Cortez, vice president and corporate controller at Ernest Health, explains, “We’ve adopted cloud-based systems—like Workday—which not only free up IT resources to focus on other critical areas but also provide insight into more detailed information, allowing our hospital CFOs and controllers to better identify areas for improvement and cost control.”

Another way for healthcare organizations to glean insights is to take advantage of artificial intelligence, which frees up time previously spent on manual processes. PwC’s “Top health industry issues of 2018” report reveals that “health businesses are using AI to automate decision-making, create financial and tax reporting efficiencies, automate parts of their supply chains, or streamline regulatory compliance functions.” Automating manual, repetitive tasks frees up valuable time and helps reduce human error so the finance team can focus on more strategic initiatives.

Support and Drive Growth

Survival of the fittest in healthcare isn’t just about adapting to change. CFOs must also drive it, identifying and supporting new opportunities for growth. There are many opportunities to deliver growth, including new business lines, joint ventures with other organizations, and exploring M&A opportunities. In fact, Bloomberg reports that the volume of M&A transactions in healthcare has reached about $156 billion already this year—the busiest start in more than a decade.

CFOs need to ensure they have ready access to information in a unified system so that they can better predict, advise, and monitor the results of such opportunities, and also better understand their impact to both the patient and employee experience.

Finance is no longer just about the numbers. With the communication skills of a leader, the data-driven approach of an analyst, and the insights and knowledge of a consultant, healthcare CFOs can become change agents for a better future for their organizations.