The Collaborative Imperative

Mary Beth Briscoe, CFO for the University of Alabama’s University Hospital and UAB Medicine Clinical Operations, explains why physician-operational alignment is more important than ever

Twenty-five years ago, Mary Beth Briscoe earned her MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Today, she serves as CFO for UAB Medicine Clinical Operations and of UAB Hospital, the UAB Health System’s flagship, 1,157-bed teaching hospital.

Briscoe gained valuable experience in private healthcare prior to joining UAB, and her transition to a leadership role at a prominent academic medical center with more than a million encounters per year is one that she embraces.

“University Hospital is the largest academic medical center within the state of Alabama, and one of the largest academic medical centers in the country,” she says. “Contributing to the mission of a nationally renowned organization was extremely exciting and humbling to me.”

“An institution with academic, research, and operational missions presents a unique learning opportunity and it challenges me to broaden my experience and grow as a leader.”

Serving as CFO since 2002, Briscoe has faced the rigors of a twenty-first century healthcare environment. This includes mounting pressures on reimbursement, changing payment models, and transitioning organizational structures and cultures.

“An institution with academic, research, and operational missions presents a unique learning opportunity and it challenges me to broaden my experience and grow as a leader.”

“To address these external challenges, we have emphasized collaboration among administration, clinicians, and day-to-day work groups as a key to sustainable success,” she explains. “This new collaborative paradigm requires a higher level of emotional intelligence, and a focus on development of softer skills to be successful.”

Mary Beth Briscoe
on the #1 challenge for 
every healthcare CFO

“The biggest challenge facing today’s financial leaders is prioritization and coordination of organizational responses to a changing environment. The linkage of quality, safety, and efficiency to a rapidly changing reimbursement and regulatory landscape has produced significant pressures on already strained resources.

Our mutual challenge with clinical leadership is to work together to prioritize the efforts of the organization. Which is more valuable: incentives associated with value-based purchasing? Increasing consistencies in clinical care? Medicare bundled payments? Medicaid managed care and expansion? Reducing readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions? Engaging the patient to manage market shifts driven by consumerism?

The answer is, these and many more are all important. Prioritization, communication, and coordination of strategic initiatives is critical to our continued success and ability to deliver the highest-quality, cutting-edge patient care.”

Over the last several years, UAB has made strides in aligning its clinical and operational initiatives—including coordinated efforts between the chief medical officer, physician integration network, and operational/financial leadership. These efforts are focused on improving coordination of care, increasing consistencies in clinical practice, and streamlining operational processes. “Our goal is to positively influence clinical outcomes, enhance patient satisfaction, and improve financial viability.”

“Our organization’s ongoing tripartite mission and the rapid changes in healthcare require administrative leaders and clinical faculty to foster an environment of collaboration and alignment in order to move the organization forward to meet the market pace of change,” Briscoe says. “It is the committed professionals who work with me and their level of engagement and dedication to our patients that provide a sense of satisfaction and purpose in what we do at UAB for our patients and our community.”

Briscoe’s commitment to partnering with clinicians is exemplified through her involvement in the ongoing development of enterprise-wide initiatives aimed at improving clinical care pathways, the efficiency of supporting processes, and enhancing revenue.

“Over the past eighteen months, multidisciplinary teams have been engaged in a constructive dialogue to foster a greater shared understanding of how patient-care delivery processes impact our system clinically, operationally, and financially,” Briscoe says. “This initiative has allowed us to—with the highest level of patient care remaining our top priority—align clinical and operational performance metrics and prepare for increasing risks presented by changing reimbursement models.”

To meet the challenges of a healthcare landscape that places significance on value and patient experience, Briscoe believes today’s financial must possess not only traditional financial skills sets, but also a multitude of softer skills. To collaborate effectively, financial leaders must be able to translate the impacts of clinical outcomes on financial and strategic results—“to become comfortable being uncomfortable and challenge the organization to take measurable risks.”

Briscoe has been an active member in the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and served as its national chair in 2008. She serves as the national chair of the HFMA/Vizient AMC CFO Council.

“We, as healthcare leaders, face similar challenges,” Briscoe says. “To provide a forum that allows us to impart our experiences and share perspectives is critical to our ability to adapt and succeed as the business of healthcare continues to change and reform.”

“Particularly now, we as individuals must inventory and capitalize on our unique skill sets and recognize our ability to make a difference. So much in healthcare is changing, and we have to stay engaged with every aspect of our organization in order to thrive, rather than simply survive.”

As she looks toward the future of healthcare, Briscoe lives out her own challenge as a leader for UAB by continuing to stress the necessity of collaboration.

“During these challenging times,” she says, “it is our passion for our patients and commitment to our industry that will stir us to make the fundamental changes needed to improve our organizations and the care we provide to the communities we serve.” AHL