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What Is the Role of a Chief Operations Officer in a Hospital?

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Health care is an increasingly complex field in which quality, safety, economy and the effectiveness of patient care and daily operations are important, according to a January 2012 article in “Hospitals and Health Networks.” The chief executive officer (CEO) of an organization is usually tasked with strategic leadership, but it is the chief operating officer, or COO, who performs the daily management and leadership tasks.

Education is the Starting Point

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational credential for senior managers such as COOs, but in most medium- or large-sized operations, a master’s degree is more common. Clinical leaders are sometimes promoted to COO positions, in which case the COO could have a clinical degree or a dual degree, such as a master’s in nursing and an MBA or master’s in health care administration. Some COOs also hold certification in their field, such as the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management’s executive certification.

Coordinating and Improving

The COO usually reports directly to the CEO or may report to the board of directors. In some organizations, department heads report to the COO, while in others, reporting responsibilities are divided among the senior management team. COOs assure the hospital coordinates care with physicians as well as other medical facilities, such as long-term care, rehabilitation facilities and home health services. COOs must also understand and use process-improvement techniques to make hospital operations as efficient and smooth running as possible.

Collaboration and Partnerships

A COO is concerned with the overall outcomes for a particular patient population, and the relationship to a community’s health. For example, an outbreak of contagious disease has an impact on hospital operations as the patients must be cared for and hospital staff protected. The COO, however, may also need to organize collaborative efforts with the public health department to protect others in the community and to arrange for follow-up care once the infected patients leave the hospital. The COO must have experience in a broad variety of health care operations, as today’s hospitals partner with physicians, balance the roles of hospital-employed and independent physicians, and engage in joint ventures with insurance companies or other payers.

Challenges, Initiatives and Finances

Integrating demands for safety and good clinical results, promoting a service orientation and keeping the organization on a strong financial footing are typical COO responsibilities. Hospital operations can become fragmented in the face of multiple challenges and a wide variety of strategic initiatives designed to cut costs, streamline services and develop new models. A COO must be able to integrate and coordinate these conflicting demands, according to a February 2009 article in “Hospitals and Health Networks.”