Despite friction, CFO-CMO partnerships are a win-win

The changing nature of the healthcare industry means chief financial officers and chief medical officers must put aside historical friction in favor of collaboration.

The roles and responsibilities of the two positions made working together difficult in the past, John Byrnes, M.D., a board member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association and founder of the Byrnes Medical Group, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview.

"CMOs generally don't have a business background, so they speak a different language than the CFO and vice-versa," says Byrnes, the former CMO of SCL Health in Denver.

Carson Dye, senior partner at the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, agrees. "Historically, [CFOs and CMOs] have rarely been in the same room," Dye told FierceHealthcare. "In some respects they've been focused on very different kinds of things."

This disconnect even extends to building design, according to Dye. "You don't really find finance offices close to clinical care, patient care areas," he said.

Furthermore, their responsibilities to their employees can seem incompatible. "It's almost a given that finance people and physicians are going to clash, because finance people think that physicians are running up the expense of healthcare," Dye, told FierceHealthcare, "and the finance people trying to curb it back, kind of incense the physicians, who think 'Well, the finance people don't even know what I'm doing.'"

But now in the post-Affordable Care Act landscape, Brynes says, "CFOs are starting to realize that any improvement in care that the chief medical officer can drive through the organization also has significant financial benefits because more often than not it will remove some of the unnecessary costs in patient care out of the organization."

When CFOs and CMOs find common ground, Byrnes says, it benefits both their sectors, as it bridges their respective goals of lower costs and improved patient outcomes. In fact, he believes their differences can aid the collaborative process. As the line blurs between finance and healthcare, CFOs and CMOs "are learning each other's responsibilities in the organization," he says, "and I think that helps tremendously. Furthermore, an outcomes-driven position like the CMO benefits from communicating with the more data-oriented finance sector.

At South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York, CMO Mark Bogen has collaborated with CMO Linda Efferen, with each taking advantage of the other's expertise, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

"I'm always in a hurry to get to the financial component. I tend to be a little more straightforward in terms of wanting to move the agenda forward very quickly," he told Becker's Hospital Review. "She's got to look at it in terms of the various relationships and partnerships we have on the medical staff. She's very good at always wanting to make it a learning experience."