As president and CEO of the nation’s largest patient safety organization, I had the privilege of leading ECRI through a dangerous time for humanity. Overnight, the insidious COVID-19 virus sent our 500-plus employees home to work remotely, but we never missed a beat. We were resilient; and we focused on searching for answers that would mean the difference between life and death for millions of people infected with SARS-CoV-2.
When the Philadelphia Business Journal honored me as a Healthcare Leader for 2021, I was humbled and grateful, but I knew the award belonged to and was representative of the extraordinary work that ECRI’s employees undertook to provide assurance to our global healthcare constituents and to make patients and healthcare providers safer in a time of crisis.
For their feature story about healthcare leaders, the editor asked me a series of questions, including how I overcame moments of fear and trepidation. In all honesty, I was never fearful because I knew the caliber and commitment of our amazing employees. I simply kept true to my principles, never expecting anything from others that I would not do myself. For every decision, I kept three factors in mind: the impact on patients, on ECRI, and on our employees and their families. That was and is my North Star.
Leading by embracing diversity
Every leader describes his or her leadership style differently. For me, it is primus inter pares, which roughly translates to first among equals. I commit to be inclusive in all aspects and strongly believe that the team will always deliver better results than an individual or even a group of individuals. I fully endorse and rely on the power of diversity—not only in race, ethnicity, or gender, but also in experience, expertise, and thinking.
Serving the underserved
My life story—and the experiences that made me the person and professional I am today—involves a journey across many continents. Growing up in Germany, I was inspired by a biography about Albert Schweitzer, a theologian and organist who eventually went into medicine and later worked with underserved populations in Africa. In the 1990s, I was inspired by South Africa’s president Nelson Mandela and his unwavering commitment to his cause. Even after spending 26 years in prison for his beliefs in the need for equality, Mandela managed the transition of power through truth and reconciliation rather than revenge. So, when I saw the need for physicians to provide healthcare in rural African hospitals, I responded.
The lessons I learned in Mandela’s post-apartheid Africa remain at my core as a healthcare leader. In fact, ECRI’s mission and vision reflect these deep-rooted convictions. ECRI’s mission is advancing effective, evidence-based healthcare globally. And, our vision is a world where safe, high-quality healthcare is accessible to all.
My biggest take-away from the pandemic
In the midst of great uncertainty and high demands, it is important to follow the correct path, not the easy path. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to act quickly. But, it was important to get the facts, set a plan, and enact the plan. Through hard learned experiences—not the least during my time in Africa—I knew that we needed to be flexible and nimble enough to change our plans if the conditions changed, but diligent enough that the evidence would hold. I advised my team to trust their instincts—their training and experience—and apply it to the rapidly evolving environment; be willing to challenge decisions when new facts emerge; and don’t hold onto something just because you thought it was right.
Ensuring patient safety
For the immediate future, the most important step we can take to improve healthcare quality is to ensure that everyone gets vaccinated. This is the only way we can stop this deadly pandemic and ensure that patients with other healthcare conditions get necessary treatments.
As a physician, a father, and leader of ECRI, I invite you to join my call to do what is right for patients, every day and every time. After all, patients worldwide are counting on us to keep them safe.
To learn more about ECRI’s work during the pandemic, visit ECRI’s COVID-19 Resource Center with free and shareable resources on infection prevention and control, emergency preparedness, personal protective equipment (PPE), and clinical evidence assessments.