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As CEO of Cleveland Clinic, surgeon operates smoothly

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in Best-Practices Leadership

Policymakers can learn plenty about health care from Delos Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, a hospital consistently ranked as one of the best in the world.

Business leaders also can learn from the longtime surgeon who became the hospital’s top executive in 2004. As CEO, Dr. Cosgrove presides over a $5 billion healthcare system. His leadership has emphasized patient care and patient experience, including the re-organization of clinical services into patient-centered, organ and disease-based institutes. He launched major wellness initiatives for patients, employees and communities.  He's an innovator too. He has 30 patents filed for developing medical and clinical products used in surgical environments.

A few of Cosgrove’s secrets:

Hand over the controls. The doctor, who has spent most of his career doing heart surgery and has performed more than 22,000 operations, lets patients read their own charts—a rarity at hospitals.

His thought process: “If I’m in the hospital, I want to know what those guys are writing about me.” Cosgrove asked why it should be the hospital’s chart when it’s really the patient’s chart. Now the clinic uses a web-based program called MyChart.

“We think it’s the patients’ information,” he says. “It’s about them. We’re working for them. Why shouldn’t they have the data?”

Practice what you preach. Trim and energetic at age 70, Cosgrove walks the talk on diet and exercise.

Take a crash course. A top surgeon but nonetheless a technician as opposed to an executive, Cosgrove found himself making a sudden transition to CEO, a move that doesn’t always work. His advice to others in that position: Learn fast.

“I went to school when I realized I was going to have this opportunity,” he says. “I studied. I would work all day, and then I’d go home and hit the books at night. I had a lot of people who were very generous with their advice. They didn’t sit down and draw it out on a blackboard, but they gave me little pieces of information, and they were kind and supportive.”

Who were these people? They included a Harvard business professor, plus CEOs past and present from Boeing and GE.

“They were very generous with their time and their suggestions,” Cosgrove says, “and I’m grateful for that.”


— Adapted from “C-Suite Strategies: The Cleveland Clinic’s Delos Cosgrove: What fans of health care reform can learn from the famous hospital’s chief executive,” interview by Geoff Colvin, Fortune.

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