2007 Salary Survey Results

There is plenty of opportunity if you position yourself correctly, say leaders of risk managment society

Health care risk management continues to be a promising career field even as the industry faces challenges, says Douglas J. Borg, MHA, ARM, CPHRM, director of insurance for Duke Health System in Durham, NC, and president of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) in Chicago.

The continued emphasis on patient safety in health care means there is more for risk managers to do, and that can be a double-edged sword, Borg says. On one hand, there is more in your "to-do" box. But on the other hand, people may notice you more. "The focus on patient safety raised our profile, allowing us to get involved in activities that maybe we didn't do in the past, and creating more attention for the kind of activities we've always done over the years," he says. "We see that particularly concerning the data that we collect. The value of that data has gone up." The same data that risk managers have collected for years — information on medical errors, for instance — are now of much more interest beyond the walls of the risk management department, he says. Other departments and top executives have more of an interest in patient safety and quality than they did in years past, Borg says, so that interest means that the risk manager who gathers and analyzes that information is a more valuable member of the team. "The demand for the data I collect has gone up significantly in the past two or three years," he says. "That, in turn, makes me more aware of the quality of those data. So we need to pay attention to any ways we can improve the quality of data that might be used for accreditation or other purposes. Providers are under a lot of scrutiny right now, and the data supplied by risk management often plays a big role." To position yourself better for the future, risk managers should recognize that their value in the organization will be judged partly by the amount and quality of the data they provide to other key players in the organization, Borg says. "It's an opportunity for the risk manager to prove your worth, or to participate in ways that you might not have in the past," he says. "The demand for the information is strong, so can take advantage of that to improve your career."

Don't be pushed out by others

Borg cautions that there is a potential downside to the growing emphasis on patient safety in health care. If patient safety, or data collection related to safety and quality, becomes a high-profile position within your organization, others may want the spotlight. Borg says other departments can do much of the same type of data collection and analysis as risk managers, so it is imperative that you protect your turf and show your organization how you do more with the data than just put them in a nice folder and pass them on. "There is a danger of being pushed aside if you're not careful," Borg says. "Patient safety is getting a lot of press; it's very high profile, and we have to be careful not to be marginalized within our own organizations." Proactive use of the data can be what distinguishes risk managers from others who seek to stake a claim on patient safety, Borg says. Others may want the data and know how important they are, but risk managers should have the edge in knowing what to do with them, he says. "It's important to keep a strong voice and not take a back seat to others just because they suddenly want a piece of what you've been doing for years, long before it became the hot topic in health care," he says. Maintaining your position in the organization, not to mention advancing, may require developing leadership skills in addition to pure risk management. "It's not enough to know that you're a good risk manager and to just do your job well and hope somebody notices," he says. "If you really want to advance beyond where you are now, you have to keep growing as a leader in the organization."

Baby boomer wave moves on

Borg points to another trend he's seen developing in recent years. Baby boomer risk managers are beginning to retire and make way for a younger generation of new talent. As the wave of baby boomers moves forward, those still working will begin to see more young people coming into the business. "That will mean more need for continuing education, but it could also mean that these young people bring new ideas and new ways of doing things," Borg says. "It will be an interesting trend to watch." The future looks optimistic for risk managers as long as they take advantage of the opportunities, says the immediate past president of ASHRM, Paul English Smith, JD, FASHRM, CPHRM, vice president and general counsel at Cabell Huntington (WV) Hospital. The field continues to evolve as health care organizations consider ways to combine traditional risk management with patient safety and quality improvement, he says. "We've seen a number of organizations looking at ways to roll those into one position or one department, so that could be something we'll see more of in the future," he says. "It makes sense to some organizations when they see the overlap between these positions." That change would not necessarily be good or bad for risk managers, because the risk manager would be a top candidate for any such newly created position, Smith says. The way to prepare is to let organization leaders know what you are capable of beyond the traditional role of the risk manager, he says. "Like any employee, a risk manager can be pigeonholed so that leaders think you're capable of doing just one thing, even if you do it very well," Smith says. "You can become known as the person who does risk financing, or clinical risk management, and that's how they think of you. If you have more skill sets than that, you have to find a way to show that."

Investigations, finance are key skills

The ability to conduct an objective investigation is one key skill set that can help a risk manager break out of the stereotypical mold, Smith says. Investigations will be needed throughout the organization, and an experienced risk manager often has insight and skills not found in other departments, he adds. Courses in finance would be a good move for any risk manager who wants to operate with the top leaders in the organization, Smith says. The higher up you go, the more the topic always turns to managing financial resources, he notes. "At my level, with 22 years' experience, the push is for more enterprise risk management," he says. "I'm being asked for input on benefits and workers' compensation, employment liability, looking at the nontraditional risks."

Salary survey shows income rising this year

You might have more money in your pocket this year, but if so, you worked hard for it. Data from this year's Healthcare Risk Management Salary Survey suggest that salaries for health care risk managers are on the way up, but there is some letup in the workload. The exclusive 2007 Healthcare Risk Management Salary Survey was sent to about 1,187 readers in the June 2007 issue. A total of 143 were returned, for a response rate of 12%. The results were tabulated and analyzed by AHC Media, publisher of HRM. The median income for health care risk managers in this year's survey is $95,000, up from $85,000 in last year's survey. The 2006 figure represented no increase from the year before, so the current increase gets risk managers back on track with steady increases each year. In the years prior to 2005, health care risk managers had seen their incomes climb modestly but steadily each year. Consistent with the increase in median income, respondents this year also report a median salary increase over the past year of 4%-6%, much more than the 1%-3% reported most commonly in previous years. Thirty-seven percent report increases in the 4%-6% range, up from 32% reporting that amount last year. Only 13% reported that their salaries had not changed this year, down from last year's 1% and consistent with the previous year's 13%. The worst figure for this category has been the 20% reported in 2004. But at the same time, 1% reported a decrease in their income, the same as last year.

Number of work hours plateaus

Hours worked per week continues to be an interesting data point to watch. In previous years it seemed health care risk managers were working longer and longer hours. This year's survey results show you're still working long and hard, but the number of hours may be reaching a plateau. Thirty-three percent reported working 46-50 hours per week, down from last year's 39% and approaching the previous year's 30%. Twenty percent reported working 51-55 hours per week, down from last year's high water mark of 28% and closer to the previous year's 16%. Fewer risk managers are working 56-60 hours a week, 11% this year, down from 16% in 2006 and the previous year's 13%. Less than 1% report working 61-65 hours.