Podcast: A Business Strategy that Centers Patient Needs

Meeting challenges often means knowing what not to do

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As a Cleveland Clinic business executive whose key role is to support clinical operations, Corinne Ehretsman applies her talents in strategy to some of the biggest challenges the healthcare system faces. Inevitably, though, it all starts with one question, she says. “How do you best serve a patient?”

As Executive Director of Clinical Operations, Ehretsman supports Chief of Staff Beri Ridgeway, MD, and the clinical service lines at Cleveland Clinic. She is responsible for strategic direction for the health system’s clinical institutes and for clinical service line planning across Northeast Ohio.

In an interview with Brian Bolwell, MD, for the podcast “Beyond Leadership,” Ehretsman described the approach she and her team take on considerations such as whether to further grow the healthcare system.

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“Many years ago, we actually had a strategic retreat to think about the concept of growth,” Dr. Bolwell says. “Should we continue to grow? If so, what does that look like? We made the decision to do so, but what does it look like now? And how do you help facilitate growth?”

Ehretsman explains:
“From a business standpoint, sometimes it really is about knowing what not to do, as much as it is about creating the infrastructure to do more and enable that growth. It’s … really about looking to understand patient needs, market needs and medical needs, and how medicine is changing.”

Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: Shortly after you were appointed this role, the pandemic hit. Talk about changing with information pretty much daily, if not even hourly in the beginning. How did you approach that? You’re in charge of the Cleveland Clinic clinical enterprise administrative leadership for everything. And on the one hand, we had to figure out how to take care of a whole bunch of very ill patients with a disease that we didn’t know much about. On the other hand, we had to figure out how to keep people safe, what services needed to not really be very prevalent anymore, and everything in between. Walk us through how you approached that.

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Corinne Ehretsman: Well, we were really getting new information every single day. And I think one of the things that became frustrating for anyone is that you want answers, you want to know what to do next, and you want to know why. The first thing we did to approach it is to make sure that we had ways to communicate what we knew when we knew it, so that everyone was at least working with the same amount of information. I think we became very comfortable with being able to say, I don’t know, here’s my best decision based on the things I know right now. One component of that was being able to communicate to others from a leadership standpoint. Another piece of that was making sure that lines of communication were open into my office so that as we were all learning we could have that information and know what was important and valuable to people on the front line.

What might have been important and valuable in that moment was, Do you need a mask or not need a mask? Or it might have been, What door do I come into today? And everything was difficult, but I think we were able to rapidly disseminate information was one of the most important things in being able to keep everyone feeling like they had some element of control. Or at least enough information to make decisions that were going to be the right decisions in that moment. And that was the hardest piece was just really, Am I going to do something that’s wrong, hurt my colleagues, endanger my colleagues, possibly hurt a patient? It was a lot to do very, very quickly. And there was just a lot of amazing people that came together to share their best thinking for us to design and continue to just create an environment that took unbelievable care of patients and of all of our caregivers.