Healthcare 2017: That awesome healthcare leader (who has never seen a patient before)

The world of healthcare continues to change at breathtaking pace. For reasons too long to go into during a short article, there’s been a huge shift of power away from individual doctors and patients, and towards administrators and big corporations. Healthcare in its most raw primary form used to be about Dr Johnson’s small office around the corner, which would serve you and your whole family well. These days, it’s more about mergers, mega-specialty groups, and big corporations.

In my opinion, and from talking to thousands of patients and families over the years, this may have been beneficial to some people, but has questionable benefits to those who matter the most: our patients—who crave personal relationships and human connection at a local level.

And along with this sea change, we’ve also witnessed the rise of a new breed of “healthcare leader”. You see, there was a time, not so long ago, when only a doctor (or nurse, or any other frontline professional) could possibly have been thought of in these terms. But now, the new healthcare leader looks more like this: a well-suited man, often well under 50 years of age, and looking rather slick. They will be introduced at events and conferences as “great and visionary healthcare leaders”. Only problem is this: most of them have never seen, interacted with, or treated a real patient before. Most of them have little perspective of the frontline. Most of them have no clinical training whatsoever (only a business degree, that helps them manage the bottom line). Yet that’s enough to potentially have hundreds or thousands of highly qualified doctors under their command.

I must say I chuckle a bit to myself whenever I hear anybody non-clinical being described as a healthcare leader. However nice or well-intentioned they may be (and I know many of them personally, and think lots of them are perfectly decent people), with lofty ambitions, but there’s just something not quite right about this. Business or corporate leader perhaps, but not a healthcare leader.

Likewise, I meet so many medical students nowadays as well, who are anxious to get into well-paying corporate healthcare jobs, but want to do this from as far away as possible from the frontlines. Again, not right, and an ominous sign of where things may be heading.

Because if healthcare is to truly improve, thrive, and be well placed for the next several decades, only clinicians should be the real healthcare leaders.


Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.

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