Annual Conference Day 2: Keynote speaker Suneel Gupta expounds on the importance of recharging

In his first remarks as HFMA’s National Chair, Marc Scher encouraged finance leaders to focus more on fast execution of innovative concepts.

June 26, 2024 1:11 am

Rest and breaks from work should be viewed not as a reward, but as a resource that supports performance, Suneel Gupta, wellness CEO, best-selling author and visiting scholar with Harvard Medical School, told HFMA Annual Conference attendees during Tuesday’s keynote presentation in Las Vegas.

“When we look at the science behind human performance, what we see is that rest is not a reward for what you have done,” said Gupta, the CEO of RISE. “It is actually a resource for what you are about to do. And it’s not just a resource for you, it is a resource for everybody around you as well. Because the energy that you arrive with is the energy that they are going to leave with. And that is particularly true for you [Annual Conference attendees] because many of you are leading people.”

The issue of rest and restoration is closely tied to achieving one’s potential. In beginning to explore the dynamic, Gupta took to heart some wisdom from Mahatma Gandhi, who has been quoted as saying, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”

Gupta wondered: “Why is it that some people are able to meet their potential in life and other people are not? What is the delta between those two things?”

Wellness CEO Suneel Gupta speaks Tuesday at Annual Conference. (Photo by Michael Chorvat)

He traveled around talking to titans of business, high-achievers and sage philosophers such as Bill Gates, Ben and Jerry, and Salman Rushdie.

“Every conversation always led back to one key value, one thing that was almost hidden in plain sight,” Gupta said. “And that quality is energy.

“If we look at people who are able to reach their potential in life versus people who do not, very rarely do the people who fizzle out run out of time or talent. What they almost always run out of is energy.”

Energy can be defined as “your capacity to keep moving forward,” Gupta said. “The challenge sometimes is that everywhere we look, we find that people are running low on this capacity.”

He said surveys show 70% of the workforce is “languishing,” meaning they experience high levels of stress and run low on energy. In healthcare, that same share is seen when C-suite leaders are asked whether they might leave their jobs in the next 12 months.

A frequent response to stress is to emphasize time management, but that approach may miss the mark.

“When you learn how to manage your energy, you will no longer feel strangled by time,” Gupta said.

How to fare better

A concept that can elevate the quality of one’s own energy and that of the people around them is rhythmic renewal. High-performers such as Martha Stewart take as many as eight breaks per day, Gupta said. The wisdom of doing so is borne out in science, which shows that people who take small, focused breaks throughout the day maintain a high level of freshness.

“We’re not just talking about well-being here,” Gupta said. “We’re talking about creativity. We’re talking about performance.”

The key is to track energy levels throughout the day and take time to replenish energy as needed. It’s also important to target an activity that promotes replenishment.

Said Gupta, “Could it be walking? Could it be breathing? Could it be calling a friend, getting into nature, doing dishes?

“Start to think about what those little resets are and start to write those down. And then every time you have a five-minute break or a 10-minute break, grab something off the list and use it to re-center yourself.”

Taking a five-minute break per hour is advisable whenever possible.

At a lot of businesses, “More than half of their schedule is filled with 60-minute blocks that could actually be turned into 50-, 55-minute blocks,” Gupta said. “So, they could do a 55-minute meeting instead of a 60-minute meeting. They could sit down for a 55-minute block of work instead of a 60-minute block of work.

“Start to build these transitions into your day.”

— Nick Hut

New HFMA Chair Marc Scher encourages improved innovation, faster execution

Healthcare finance executives need to get going on adapting to the changing industry, and do so in an organized and aggressive fashion, said HFMA’s newly installed Chair, Marc B. Scher, FHFMA, CPA.

For his inaugural speech as Board Chair, Scher spoke during Tuesday’s general session in Las Vegas and outlined his vision for how CFOs and their colleagues can successfully adapt, describing a difficult journey ahead for HFMA members but not an impossible one.

As part of any steps they take to induce change in their operations and the industry, hospital executives need to rein in the tendency to remain static in their approach to running their organizations.

“You are not competing against your traditional competitor anymore,” Scher said. “If you’re Hospital A, you’re not competing against Hospital B. You’re competing against yourself and Amazon,” or its ilk.

Marc Scher, HFMA’s FY24-25 Chair, speaks Tuesday at Annual Conference. (Photo by Michael Chorvat)

Scher offered specific ways to successfully innovate amid the rapidly changing industry, and noted that HFMA and its Board, including CEO Ann Jordan, are looking inward to see how the Association must change in this era.

“We’re taking a hard look at our organization in order to identify areas where we need to grow and change in order to make a greater impact on our mission and increase the value to our membership,” he said.

His speech included specific actions that should be included in hospital CFOs’ efforts to implement change in a two-part fashion, first by innovating and second by executing.

Scher described 10 ways hospital leaders can improve their innovating and executing of change, including by keeping focused on solutions, not problems.

“It is easy to point to the problem, but few are willing to take the next step and attempt to improve the situation,” Scher said.

He also emphasized working to solve the correct problem — “We first need to understand the problem. You cannot solve the problem if you are only trying to fix a symptom” — and being positive, noting negative people have a problem for every solution.

Leaders also should surround themselves with the right people: “When you have the right people with diverse perspectives, you are more likely to understand your problem and develop innovative solutions that solve the problem and will stand the test of time,” Scher said.

He also used his talk to unveil his theme for his term in office, Sempre Avanti, Italian for “Always Forward.

“Our industry and our Association are at an inflection point,” Scher said. “Yesterday’s strategies and solutions will no longer solve today’s threats, let alone tomorrow’s threats. We must be willing to reconfigure existing frameworks and processes to ensure our future success.”

— Paul Barr

Health system finance leaders describe some of their defining challenges

Hospitals and health systems have many pressing tasks to address, and one of the biggest is to ensure patients can interact with the system as easily as possible.

“How do we continue to ensure that we can provide all of those different services for our patients, but yet make it convenient and focus on access?” said Julie Lautt, CFO with Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Avera Health.

One step has been to make pharmacy services more convenient by bringing medications to the bedside at discharge, she noted. That’s an example of trying to gauge patient needs and adapting accordingly.

Lautt and Gordon Edwards, CFO and treasurer with Akron Children’s Hospital, spoke Tuesday during a panel discussion moderated by Kevin Holloran, CHFP, senior director for U.S. Public Finance with Fitch Ratings and a member of HFMA’s Board of Directors.

The discussion eventually turned to labor shortages.

“The people part has become a lot more challenging and requiring us to really think through how we interact, design and create a place to work for the multiple generations that are in our workforce today that all want something very different,” Edwards said.

Those issues come at a difficult time as the baby-boomer population increases in age.

“I tell people I’m very optimistic about the next several years, just knowing folks that I know in the healthcare system,” Holloran said. “But I do worry about 2030 and beyond. That keeps me up at night, among other things.”

To shore up the workforce, Edwards can sell his organization’s mission of caring for kids. Beyond that are efforts to stay competitive with wages and benefits, including nontraditional benefits such as easily accessible mental-health support and tuition and childcare reimbursement.

Looking ahead, Avera Health is seeking to establish a pipeline to local high schools, Lautt noted. The organization also is trying to make the most of technology, for example by deploying it to perform mundane tasks at the bedside under the virtual supervision of a clinician.

Although technology such as AI is enticing, it also carries a potential downside.

“My fear is that as we go through AI, we’re going to do the same thing we did with electronic health records, which was spend millions of dollars, hire a bunch of staff to use technology and actually not bring any costs out of the system,” Edwards said.

Organizations hope AI at least will turn out better for physicians than EHRs did in many situations.

“We’ve put more work on [physicians],” Edwards said. “We take more of their time on administrative tasks. And so, if AI or some of the technology can help us free up their time, make the job of medicine more fun, I think it will be great. I’m not sure how much of that hard savings will be there, but the soft savings are real, too, over a period of time.”

— Nick Hut

Proactive analytics help organizations tackle confounding problems

AI-infused analytics can drive improvements in coding and denials prevention, among other areas, if applied in the right manner, experts said during a presentation Tuesday.

“Historical data is very hard to make actionable — to really get outcomes that you can measure and you can show the benefits of and really drive to cost reduction, drive to revenue improvement, drive to denial reductions,” said Jason Burke, global vice president for revenue cycle solutions with Solventum, a spinoff of 3M.

The new wave of analytics brings vastly greater potential to affect processes, said Burke and Julie Salomon, RN, CDI business director with Solventum.

“The future is providing people [with information] within the workflows,” Burke said.

Physician notifications are a prime example.

“It all starts with the care they provide, obviously, but it starts with how they document it,” Burke said. “Is it right? Does it represent the quality of care, which affects your star ratings?”

There’s more of an opportunity to get ahead of the curve in real time.

“We’d [previously] tell our CDI teams or our coders, ‘Well, here’s where we’re not doing well with documentation. You need to educate the physicians, send a query, make them clarify and be accurate around what they’re documenting,’” Salomon said. “And so now we can take this big data and with the new technology and AI, we can make it more actionable.”

Said Burke, “All of this stuff is going to move to where the patient’s still being treated, to taking those actions while it’s happening.”

He added, “How do you understand how to take those denials that are actionable and insert [them] into your workflows so that your CDI specialists, your physicians, your coding team understand that there’s a high propensity for that record to be denied? And also if it is, what do you do about it?”

“We should resolve those issues before [the claim] gets out of coding,” he added.

— Nick Hut


googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text1' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text2' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text3' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text4' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text5' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text6' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-text7' ); } );
googletag.cmd.push( function () { googletag.display( 'hfma-gpt-leaderboard' ); } );