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I met with a trusted advisor on Friday in the lobby of a downtown Dallas skyscraper. We were discussing my Personal Positioning Statement, and the changing healthcare environment. For months, I have been carefully following and blogging on the Congressional debate on reform. Listening to the political rants of television’s chattering experts regarding waste, soaring costs, and budget deficits, I realized that this noise was raising my own level of frustration. And it showed.

An eternal optimist, I was actually becoming very negative regarding the course of the debate as well as the agenda of the various experts who would purport to speak the truth. My colleague and friend suggested that it was time to move on. My negative focus regarding the current state of the debate on reform was not enlightening anyone. She was right. She usually is.

As I walked into the cool afternoon sun, I experienced a moment of clarity. All the political yelling and shouting aside, I realized that one of two things will happen:

  1. Congress will pass a healthcare reform bill. CMS will reduce payments to hospitals, physicians and other healthcare providers to pay for the bill.
  2. Congress will stumble yet again and healthcare reform will die. Congress/CMS will reduce payments to hospitals, physicians and other healthcare providers to solve the critical deficit crisis.

So, the real take away here is that healthcare service providers will get less money. The outcome may not be fair, but in the words of an old Texas wag that I have often quoted in many of my speeches, “If you want fair, come to Dallas in October. It’s called the state fair.”

We cannot control either outcome. Therefore, I think the best course of action is for healthcare executives to take charge of their own destinies. I think the central question is: How can CEOs proactively reduce costs ahead of an era of lower payments from CMS and, eventually, commercial providers?

All is not lost, believe me. This is not a time for wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. I truly believe that this is a time for innovative leaders to shine. And I believe they will.

There are dozens of reports circulating through news publications, on talk shows and through the halls of Congress about the waste in healthcare. These reports do a disservice to the thousands of hospital CEOs who worry about these very issues. However, to a great degree, these healthcare leaders are trapped by a so-called “system” that was built around years of poorly designed reimbursement programs, complex government regulations, and special interest exemptions. We cannot control the flow or content of these reports and studies any more than we can control what Congress does.

It is time to move on to those things that really matter day in and day out.

What CEOs and their teams can control is the quality of patient care, customer service, and patient safety. CEOs can also control their costs. One very important area where CEOs can drive out costs and build value is the human capital component. There is big money to be saved in this arena. The good news is that it does not begin or end with cutting salaries.

Actually, there is an amazing amount of hidden cost in healthcare recruitment, orientation, and retention programs that never appear on a financial statement. But these costs are there, and there is a lot to be gained from examining the process, piece by piece; from position descriptions, recruitment and onboarding, to employee satisfaction and the turnover rate. I reckon most of us would need the help of a financial advisor to explain what all the costs mean. My friend is always telling me about the advisor he uses, and with the help of a platform like LeadJig that’s been incorporated into their practice, he’s always getting the best service from them. It was in that instance, that I realized I may need the same sort of help. Although, I did discover that each portion of an organization’s human capital component will yield some important savings if you apply the correct performance metrics.

Focusing on this critical aspect of healthcare operations will help CEOs recognize an untapped reservoir of efficiency and good will with their employees.

John G. Self is Chairman and Senior Client Advisor of JohnMarch Partners. He is a Co-Founder of the Firm.

A former investigative reporter and crime writer with more than 30-years of healthcare leadership experience in public relations, national marketing, business development and as Chief Executive Officer of hospitals and consulting firms, Mr. Self is highly regarded for his keen insight into operations, business culture and for his ability to consistently select the right leaders.