Healthcare Boards: Risks and Rewards

  • By: Darren McCullagh
  • April 21, 2023
Healthcare boards
Reading Time: 4 minutes
The healthcare industry is under pressure. From patient care and regulatory responsibilities to recruiting, cyber security and more, it’s getting tougher for organisations – private and public alike – to ensure they’re doing everything they must to provide good care and outcomes.

This article identifies healthcare providers’ key challenges and suggestions for tackling them. Minimising risks and costs while maximising safety and effectiveness is no mean feat. But with clear thinking and the right tools, it can be done.

Balancing Priorities

Healthcare boards must balance a wide range of priorities, including patient outcomes, quality of care and financial sustainability. These priorities often compete with each other and require different approaches. 

Research suggests that globally, priorities orient around operational efficiency, change management and human resources management. Local thinking has focused on costs, outcomes, a systemic focus on treatment rather than prevention and investment in innovation. 

Regardless of focus, the key to success is for a board to have a holistic understanding of its operations, risks, strengths and opportunities. Only then can it make sound strategic decisions. 

How to do it: adopting a board management platform can help you manage and set priorities by granting visibility over key reports, documents, messages and surveys.

Staying up-to-date with Industry Changes

Healthcare is a rapidly evolving industry, and boards must stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments to make good decisions. This can be difficult, as the healthcare landscape can be uncertain and ambiguous. 

Boards and board members should be ‘plugged in’ to the industry and its key players and share their knowledge freely. Recently, senior RACGP members gave their thoughts on the challenges facing the industry (and the government); they range from community health initiatives and workforce recruitment to the difficulties of general practice and the need for broad, systemic reform. 

Keeping up to date with these conversations – and others like them – as well as research, innovation and workforce challenges is critical to remaining a competitive and effective industry player. 

How to do it: critical features for any modern board platform include onboarding, board assessment, skills tracking, secure messaging, surveys and voting, all of which can help members stay current and connected. 

Managing Risk

Healthcare boards must manage various risks, including clinical, financial and reputational. With potentially catastrophic consequences from poor risk management, healthcare organisations require a comprehensive approach, including identifying and mitigating potential risks before they become problems. 

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) provides a Risk Management Framework based on adherence to the International Standard on Risk Management (ISO 31000:2018). It’s a solid starting point for any risk management regime. 

Regardless of your organisation’s approach and methodology, it’s critical to have a coherent system in place that identifies all relevant risks and provides a framework for mitigation. 

How to do it: managing governance, risk and compliance (GRC) is mission-critical for all organisations, but healthcare providers have special responsibilities; look for a board platform with dedicated GRC capabilities. 

Ensuring Compliance with Regulations

Healthcare is a heavily regulated industry, and healthcare boards must ensure that their organisations comply with all relevant regulations, including those related to privacy, data security, and quality of care. Compliance requires a deep understanding of the regulatory landscape and a commitment to ongoing compliance efforts. 

The Department of Health and Aged Care sets health product and service standards. It operates organisations including the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. The Department also provides a reform agenda, policy framework, best practice principles, and Statements of Expectations and of Intent. 

All board members should be familiar with these resources to inform their participation in deliberation and decision-making.   

How to do it: regulatory breaches can have serious consequences for healthcare organisations, from statutory penalties to impacts on patient health and well-being. Board platforms with baked-in compliance capabilities can help minimise these risks. 

Recruiting and Retaining Talent

Healthcare boards must attract and retain top talent to effectively oversee their organisations. Talent management is challenging, as there is a global shortage of health workers, and the industry is highly competitive, requiring specialised skills and expertise. 

Rural and remote staffing is challenging, and other factors include immigration and visa requirements, pay and conditions, workplace expectations and career and education opportunities. Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout has become an increasingly significant problem, making recruitment and retention even more critical than previously.  

Boards must ensure their organisations offer attractive conditions and career pathways for talent at all levels. Failing to do so can put them at a severe competitive disadvantage to attract the best employees. 

How to do it: board assessment and skills tracking are critical tools for evaluating current capabilities and identifying future needs; a modern board management platform will provide these tools and more. 

Communicating Effectively with Stakeholders 

Healthcare boards must communicate effectively with various stakeholders, including patients, healthcare providers, regulators, and the general public. Such communication requires a deep understanding of each group’s needs and expectations and a commitment to transparent and open communication. 

With an increased focus on healthcare leadership and communication, it should be no surprise that transparent reporting, open communication, questions and challenges from board members all influence stakeholder engagement. The Department of Health’s Stakeholder Engagement Framework is an example of a systematic approach to ensuring the organisation reaps the benefits – including resilience, flexibility, learning and innovation, identifying new opportunities and improving performance – that effective communication brings. 

Boards that make effective stakeholder communication a priority stand to gain similar benefits.  

How to do it: easy integration with commercial productivity software, such as Microsoft 365, makes staying in touch and sharing information with stakeholders simple and secure.

Managing Cybersecurity

Healthcare is Australia’s most-cyber-attacked sector. Healthcare providers must protect patient data and ensure their systems’ security. Providers must remain vigilant to protect themselves and their patients.  

With patient outcomes at risk, not to mention significant financial and reputational losses, every organisation must prioritise its cyber risk identification, management and mitigation practices. Creating an action plan is a critical first step but must be adequately resourced and constantly monitored. 

Boards must ensure that all members understand the principles and practices involved and look to recruit members with proven expertise.  

How to do it: a modern and secure board portal will do more than simply secure your board communications and information-sharing. It will also provide the necessary capabilities to understand, oversee and mitigate cyber risks.

Want to steer your steering committee to success? Try a free trial of OnBoard today.