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Health care risk managers need to be assertive and prove their value


NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — One of the biggest challenges facing health care risk managers is proving their value to their organizations, according to a pair of experts speaking Monday at the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management annual conference in National Harbor, Md.

That can involve dealing with what didn't occur, said Pamela L. Popp, executive vice president of Western Litigation in Greenwood Village, Colo. “We need to know which information we need to give” senior managers and others, she said.

And buy-in from senior managers is critical, said Deb McCracken, chief risk officer of Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Mont. For buy-in, the key words are “pay” and “share,” she said. Managers who commit to the financial and behavioral requirements of risk managers should share in the rewards as well, she said.

Risk managers need to develop partnerships in other areas of the health care organization and develop a clear, consistent and concise message, Ms. McCracken said. For example, she said she provides management with single-page reports with three bullet points and a presentation that lasts five to 10 minutes, with time for questions and time for her to listen to her audience's concerns.

“When communications grow silent, so does the success of the risk management program,” Ms. McCracken said.

She urged her audience to lead by example. Among other things, she said to pay attention to the beneficiaries of power. There are naysayers, early adopters and a vast middle. The early adopters can become advocates for risk management. “Visibility is critical,” she said.


She also said that the risk management staff must be able to answer two questions:

What is the role of risk management? And what positive change has been implemented by the risk manager, as a result of an adverse event or a near miss?

Risk managers need to walk the floors, Ms. McCracken said. “Only by talking with staff” can they identify major risks confronting a given department, she said.

“Leave them asking for more,” Ms. Popp said. Let listeners “follow you down the hall” and ask questions after presentations.

And don't be afraid to ask for resources, she said. “We have to be much more assertive” and “make sure we have a place at the table,” Ms. Popp said.

Ms. McCracken said she is involved with daily leadership briefings which look at six matters as a means of showing value:

  • Patient harm in the past 24 hours;
  • Employee injury in the last 24 hours;
  • Significant patient complaints;
  • Readmitted patients within the past 30 days;
  • Equipment failures; and
  • Events anticipated in the next 24 hours.

“Build a culture of preventing harm,” Ms. McCracken said. “Ultimately, we're looking for a decrease in serious safety events.”

“The key is to talk about results,” Ms. Popp said.