As coronavirus continues to spread and claim lives in China and elsewhere, U.S. health experts worry about whether our nation’s hospitals are doing enough to prepare for a potential pandemic. Since crises are likely to happen with little warning, what leadership qualities do hospitals need when disaster strikes? What critical success factors should hospitals seek in their leadership candidates in order to be ready for the next one?

Tested during crises

Crises like coronavirus can be a major test for any leader. In such situations, leaders must know how to create a disaster strategy, maintain operations and support their staffs during a sudden or expected crisis. Are they prepared, yet flexible in the face of changing conditions? Can they motivate their teams? Do they have a plan to communicate immediate and accurate information, inside and out of the hospital? Most important, how can you tell when making leadership choices?

Transparency

There are thousands of physicians and hospital staff currently treating patients with coronavirus. Are they being transparent about their facility’s clinical preparedness? Are they communicating that with the medical and hospital staff? With the public?

Urgency

A recent survey from InCrowd found that out of 150 doctors, only 9% felt confident that they could diagnose coronavirus in a patient. Only one of four physicians said they felt prepared to treat patients with the novel respiratory illness. Guidance and support are needed now more than ever. Do health systems provide guidance and support to leadership and staff, so they are prepared to treat patients with coronavirus? Or, do you seek a candidate with these experiences and traits in advance?

Advocacy

Physicians and other medical experts in leadership positions advocate for potential pandemic preparedness. Dr. Eric Toner, a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has called for nationwide hospital funding for coronavirus preparation. This includes re-educating staff, updating infection control procedures and providing necessary training for multidisciplinary teams to work together. Do leaders share a sense of urgency and a mindset geared toward the wellbeing of patients? Do doctors and their care teams have what they need to be sufficiently prepared for a coronavirus outbreak and to treat patients?

Asking the right questions

While the coronavirus looms as a potential problem, it’s not likely to be the last crisis American hospitals will face. If you’re looking for a leader who’s a good fit for your health care organization, crisis management experience is one of many factors to consider. More important, however, is the ability to pull that experience through to the entire organization. Those candidates have ready answers to those questions about transparency, urgency and advocacy. Candidates who have successfully weathered a storm are ready for the next one.

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