How to Navigate a Complex Future: Health System Experts Weigh in on Health Leadership Academy Research Findings

| Burlington, Ontario
Contributed by Mary Taws

Last night, leaders from across Canada’s health system gathered at the Ron Joyce Centre (in person and virtually) to discuss the future of health care.

In particular, this lively panel explored how we can best prepare tomorrow’s leaders to navigate disruptive forces. From technological change to shifts in patient populations, Dr. Teresa Chan (McMaster University), Jimmy Yang (Accenture Canada), Greg McQueen (Acting Co-Director, HLA), and Andre Picard (The Globe & Mail) parsed findings from the Health Leadership Academy’s new white paper on the topic. 

New and Emerging Technologies

Panel moderator and Chair of the HLA Research Committee, Rick D. Hackett.

Kicking off the discussion, moderator and Chair of the HLA Research Committee, Rick D. Hackett, asked Picard about his recent reporting on technological upheaval in the health sector.

“[Data] is the future of how we decide what health interventions [need to be made],” explained Picard. “We have lots of data collection in Canada, but it’s not very organized and we’re very bad communicators who can’t even book doctor’s appointments. So if you can’t do that, how are you going to [leverage] big data or artificial intelligence?”

Yang, a senior manager with Accenture Canada, has a great deal of experience working with health leaders on improvement, enabled by analytics, AI and other technologies. He agreed with Picard that there is a great deal of potential that is simply not being tapped into within the health sector:

Elaborating on how to make improvements in this area, Yang and Picard batted around the idea of sending physicians to “hamburger college” to learn from advancements in other industries:

Importantly, Dr. Chan and Picard stressed that the future of health can’t be entirely about technology. In order to leverage the benefits of these tools, all panelists agreed that strong leadership will be required.

“We have to keep our eye on the ball, and the ball is the patient,” explained Picard.

System Culture Change

Dr. Chan works in the division of emergency medicine at McMaster and spends much of her time developing innovations in health care education to enlighten emerging leaders. On top of improvements to operational effectiveness, Dr. Chan added that law and policy advancements are critical whenever a health system change is made.

“We’re still using pages and fax machines,” said Dr. Chan. “We haven’t figured out how we’re going to change health care laws so that patient information can be shareable, portable, and usable by multiple databases.”

With experience at several medical schools and health science centres across North America, McQueen emphasized that health care organizations must consistently foster leadership capabilities and, further, develop teams of leaders.

“You need to find a cohort of people who speak the same language that you speak,” said McQueen. “If you don’t get that magic coalition, they’ll eat you alive.”

As Picard pointed out, the health landscape in Canada is still managed in the same way it was in the 1950s. The patient populations, challenges of care, and tools available have all changed, but the system culture has not.

Collaborative Leadership

Echoing findings in the HLA white paper, both Yang and Picard expressed a need for integration within and across the health system. As Picard put it: “Leadership of the future is collaborative leadership. The cigar-chomping CEO doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Acknowledging the importance of team leadership, Dr. Chan said that combining the right set of professionals is vital for any health care organization today. As a next step, she suggested that health educators could look at ways to integrate leadership training across disciplines:

Anatomy of a Future Leader

Megan Bent, participant in the HLA’s Emerging Health Leaders Program, asks a question during the April 29, 2019 panel discussion.

McQueen noted that forces, including new technologies and demographic changes, will require a number of leadership attributes, such as flexibility, agility, and resiliency. According to McQueen, dealing with uncertainty and tension is critical given the ebb and flow of progress in health care.

Building on McQueen’s comments, Yang said he observes “a lot of visioning and big ‘S’ strategy happening in health care” without the baseline ability to deal with challenges of the present day. Yang gives the example of robotics process automation to relieve professionals of monotonous tasks, such as data entry. Tapping into technologies today would free up time to hone leadership abilities.

Participants joining the online chat also raised important questions around how to appropriately weight individual leadership qualities:

The panel closed by exploring the criteria (or lack thereof) for leadership role selection in health care.

“One of the big impediments to better leadership is the culture of medicine,” said Picard. “I visit all 17 medical schools every year and I meet brilliant people with great ideas. You teach them leadership skills and innovation, but then you put them in a workplace where if you buck the trend, [they’ll] crush you.”

Tying together these insights with the HLA’s research findings, Hackett sums up the panel with a critical question: How do we ensure there is institutional support for health care professionals to grow and apply their leadership skills?

We invite leaders from across the health system to weigh in on this question and to join the Health Leadership Academy in its mission to prepare emerging leaders, no matter what the future holds.

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