Accountable care organizations (ACOs) can be extremely successful in delivering reliable, high-quality care at a lower cost. However, with shared responsibility and added risk for providers, there’s little room for error, especially when it comes to leadership hiring decisions.
Although there is considerable variability in structure among ACOs, whether associated with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) or private payor, the overarching goal remains the same: ACOs are designed to ensure patients get the right care at the right time while preventing medical errors and avoiding unnecessary duplication of services (CMS).
Effective leadership can set the tone across the ACO, guiding stakeholders toward transforming the organization, delivery, and financing of care; achieving shared provider goals of better care at lower cost; and allowing patients to form partnerships with providers who best meet their needs (CMS ADLS).
Critical Competencies for ACO Leaders
When interviewing potential ACO leaders, organizational decision-makers and executive staffing professionals can look for critical competencies. Variability among ACO structures and locations calls for fine-tuning interview questions according to needs. However, these top three competencies have emerged as key components for successful ACO leadership:
1. An effective ACO executive leader will be a subject matter expert.
The candidate should demonstrate a deep understanding of the accountable care organization concept, the intricacies of the particular type of ACO structure, and ACO strategies and business skills.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “An ACO’s organizational structure can have implications for the way it functions and its likelihood of success. An ACO can be almost any combination of group practices, networks of practices, hospitals, hospitals employing other physicians and clinicians, hospital-physician joint ventures, or virtual groups” (AAFP).
Therefore, it is vital that the ACO leadership candidate has prior experience with or can easily grasp the workings of the particular type of ACO. In “One Size Will Not Fit All: Factors That Drive Strategy in Accountable Care Organizations,” Marcotte et al. discuss the importance of understanding which strategies will be most effective for a particular ACO: “Although ACOs all possess a set of core features that define the payment model, differences across payer types and patient populations mean that no single strategy will be effective for all types of ACOs. Provider organizations would be best served considering and participating in ACOs after they have considered these differences and their implications for care delivery initiatives that can support ACO success” (AJMC).
The candidate should also have a working knowledge of ACO-related strategy and business skills and should know how to get an ACO started and keep it running smoothly. This understanding could be demonstrated either through experience or through completion of a specialized training program such as the CMS ACO: Accelerated Development Learning Sessions (ADLS). The ADLS program covers ACO core competencies, goals, implementation plans, action plans, benchmarks, resources, toolkits, and support.
Moreover, an effective ACO leader will know how to gather ongoing evaluation and feedback and use that information to make adjustments and informed decisions to steer the ACO toward success.
2. A successful ACO leader will be a visionary.
In addition to demonstrating a deep understanding of ACOs, a successful ACO leader will show the creativity and insight of a true visionary. They will be able to anticipate and adapt to shifts in the healthcare landscape and skillfully navigate change moving forward. Effective ACO leaders embrace innovation and are willing to implement tools and solutions that will successfully propel the organization into the future.
Promising candidates will be able to demonstrate experience implementing innovative tools and creative solutions like those suggested in the American Academy of Family Physicians’ ACO Planning Guide: “patient portal, same-day access, 24/7 access to the care team, urgent care availability for after hours, and personalized care plans” (AAFP).
Candidates should also know how to utilize EHR data and health analytics to drive future decisions: “Data allows physicians to identify patients who are likely to need the most care, take preventive steps to keep these patients healthy, and measure the organization’s progress against benchmarks. The use of an EHR is fundamental to an ACO’s success, although it is not sufficient on its own to help the ACO achieve its goals” (AAFP).
The successful ACO leader will not only be able to anticipate and adapt to change but will also be able to inspire those within the organization to follow suit.
3. A winning ACO leader will be a galvanizing force.
To be successful, an ACO executive must have more than knowledge and vision; they must also be able to accurately convey ideas and motivate various types of stakeholders. They are effective communicators and can inspire change.
An effective ACO leader will be able to turn to any of the ACO stakeholders and effortlessly explain precisely what this is and what part you’ll play. According to AAFP, “Successful ACOs have leaders who can articulate how each participant will contribute to patient care, quality improvement, and cost reduction…Further, by ensuring the organization’s vision, mission, values, and performance are aligned, ACO leadership can foster a sense of purpose and responsibility among all participants (AAFP).”
When screening for promising candidates, ACO decision-makers and executive search professionals can seek those who can initiate and implement change on an organizational scale and at the individual level. These are leaders who know how to get people moving by building accountability and trust. In “6 Tactics of Successful ACOs,” Day et al. affirm that one of the most common stumbling blocks for ACO leaders has been discovered while building and maintaining relationships among the people and organizations that come together to form the ACO: “The various stakeholders’ different experiences, values, habits, needs, and cultures often impede true integration” (HFMA).”
To combat this, visionary leaders must work diligently to engage with stakeholders, build strategic partnerships and incorporate ideas across the spectrum of individuals represented.
Finally, successful ACO leaders are those who are adept at building confidence in the ACO model by communicating effectively with patients and the community. Leaders who have strong communication skills know that the jargon used within the industry may be confusing for patients. Effective ACO executives realize it is essential to allocate resources toward patient-facing materials that are accessible for the general public, such as CMS’s video featuring visuals and interviews to help patients understand the benefits of ACOs, like increased value, enhanced quality, and improved safety, and getting the right care at the right time.
Let us help you find the knowledgeable, visionary, galvanizing leaders you need to steer your ACO into the future. Connect with an executive search expert at Cejka Search.