The greater potential of the hospital chief operating officer

The role of the hospital chief operating officer (COO) is too limiting and confining says an executive from a leading recruitment firm who believes it's time for organizations to broaden the position's responsibilities.

"COOs are respected to be sure, but because of their operational (read: not strategic) focus they tend be undervalued," writes Donna Padilla, senior partner with the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer and vice chair of its healthcare practice, in a blog post for Executive Insight. "The role is not always viewed as a stepping stone to the chief executive position."

She advises healthcare organizations to think about the potential of the position and the impact the person who holds the position can have on the organization. Think big, she suggests, and integrate the COO into your strategic and vision plans. She suggests boards look at recent job descriptions that other organizations use when they recruit COOs. Trustees will notice that the jobs will sound similar to the characteristics and role of the chief executive officer.

Incorporating the latest requirements for the role with the traditional responsibilities of the COO will help broaden the position, she says.

Her column echoes similar comments she made last year in an interview with FierceHealthcare when she recommend that hospitals and healthcare systems cross-train COOs to help groom them to become CEOs.

A 2015 report in Managed Healthcare Executive found that in the health insurance industry, the role of the COO has become more interchangeable with the job of the CEO. One reason for the shift is that healthcare has become a retail industry that incorporates sales, marketing, advertising and customer service to satisfy consumers--namely patients and purchasers, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

In her latest column, Padilla urges COOs to push their organizations to broaden their roles. "The healthcare chief operating officer role is not going to be well-defined any time soon. It will remain largely organization-dependent. And yet most hospitals and health systems can give the role more responsibility and muscle so that the COO makes a larger contribution towards operational and strategic objectives," she writes.

To learn more:
- read the column