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Top Takeaways from the 2017 Wisconsin Rural Health Conference

Julia (Hansch) Schultz

As is typically my experience with conferences, the greatest “takeaway” from last week’s Wisconsin Rural Health Conference was the insightful conversations with fellow attendees and presenters. From listening to others’ CMS and state survey stories – from hilarious to terrifying – to discussing the day-to-day and bigger picture challenges faced by the leaders of our rural hospitals, I walked away from this year’s conference armed with new knowledge and even more appreciation for the healthcare industry.

This conference – with its content and attendee list focused on healthcare providers in rural areas throughout our state – took place in Wisconsin Dells, June 22-24, and was chock-full of relevant content and engaged participants.

After a conference, I find it helpful to review my notes and reflect on what I learned. Recognizing that many of our clients and others with whom we interact may face similar challenges, I hope you also find these takeaways helpful (or at least interesting).

“The only constant in healthcare is the constant anxiety about change that never happens.”

Medical economist, author and policy wonk D. Kleinke said this during his thought-provoking presentation about the federal healthcare landscape. A self-described objective third party, Kleinke says his focus isn’t which party is right or wrong, but rather how to help our country’s healthcare system work better. His quote reminds us that although we may not know what shape (and to what extent) the government’s role will be in healthcare moving forward, from ACA to AHCA and beyond, we should not overreact and remember that rhetoric on either side is often worse than actual repercussions.

Be cautious of labeling others …

Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative Executive Director Tim Size spoke about the ways in which we view others within the healthcare landscape, saying it may do more harm than good. For instance, the “hick versus the hippie” dichotomy can polarize rural and urban healthcare providers and leaders and is an antiquated stereotype often defied by actual data. For instance, Size reminded attendees that rural healthcare providers make a conscious choice to be in rural areas and that in Wisconsin, readmission rates are actually lower in rural hospitals than in urban facilities – an unexpected outcome for some with preconceived ideas of how the industry functions.

Keep your docs happy to keep them with your organization

Craig Fowler of Pinnacle Health Group offered an overview of physician recruitment and retention challenges felt nationwide, especially in rural areas. He suggested the key is to retain your strong physicians, which is much more cost effective and efficient than continual recruitment. This task grows more difficult as physician burnout is on the rise, with 49 percent of surveyed physicians today reporting experiencing feelings of burnout “often,” according to the 2016 Survey of America’s Physicians. Fowler highlighted ways to satisfy and secure the tenure of your physicians – namely through open communication, clear expectations, opportunities for growth and advancement and rewarding excellent clinical outcomes and patient care.

Look for a leader with a brain for growth and heart for a rural setting

Leadership consultant Richard Metheny offered high-level guidance for rural organizations looking to begin a CEO succession plan. Start early – allowing two to four years for the transition to take place – and look for leader who is “nimble,” who understands that “old ways won’t open new doors,” which is essential in today’s quickly changing healthcare landscape. Metheny mentioned CEOs of rural healthcare providers are often those looking to make a meaningful difference in a small community. He also reminds organizations that don’t have a CEO transition on the horizon to have an emergency succession plan in place, in the event something unexpectedly happens.

Armed with these takeaways and other inspirational snippets, paired with some new connections, I’ve begun my week re-energized to continue to make a healthy difference in the lives of others. I’d love to talk with you more about the conference and share some of my learnings. Feel free to connect with me (jhansch@therobertsgroup.com) or leave a comment.




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