2006 Salary Survey Results

Data management is called the key to future for those working in the risk management field

Learn the skills needed to provide key information and analysis

Risk managers who want to advance in their careers may need to continually improve their skill sets and focus more on data management, according to leaders in the field.

Information from the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) indicate the career opportunities for health care risk managers remain strong, says Paul English Smith, JD, FASHRM, CPHRM, ASHRM president and vice president and general counsel at Cabell Huntington (WV) Hospital. ASHRM membership is up, and there has been an increase in the number of positions advertised, he reports.

"We're also seeing a lot of new people entering the field, and that means there are entry-level positions being created," Smith says. "Patient safety continues to be a major focus for our membership, and risk managers are always at the forefront of that effort."

He says risk managers are continuing to become more important to their employers, and one offshoot of that elevated value is that the bar is being raised in terms of what employers want from risk managers. Skills that may have been acceptable or even laudatory 10 years ago might not be enough to get by in risk management these days, Smith says.

"Ten years ago, if I were looking to hire someone in my department, I might have been more willing to hire someone with the basic skills and train them," he explains. "Now I'm looking for someone who's had exposure to risk management, and I'm really looking for someone who's taken the time and effort to complete certification."

Less experienced risk managers who hope to advance in their careers should work toward obtaining a master's degree and certification from ASHRM, Smith says. The career opportunities still are plentiful for risk managers with the right qualifications, he says. Many employers are starting to expect certification and advanced degrees as the basic requirements for some risk management positions, he notes. (See the chart below regarding degrees held by survey respondents.)

"The risks are still out there, and even in those areas that have benefited from malpractice reform, the need is still great for a skilled risk manager," he says. "For myself, I see my role in risk management expanding more to the enterprise risk management arena." Smith explains that when he started out in this field, his focus was mainly on medical malpractice, property, and casualty, but now he is looking more at risk to reputation, security risks, information technology, and other not-so-traditional risk management concerns.

"It's important to be flexible as the risks in health care change," he says. "Whatever we're working on right now as the top priority may change in future years, and if you want to maintain your position as a risk manager, you will need to anticipate and respond to those changes."

Smith also says leadership ability has become more valuable for risk managers. Many risk managers are being placed in positions with responsibility for an entire health care system or some other entity that is greater in scope than just one facility, so the ability to lead a disparate group of managers and work cooperatively with other senior leaders can make the difference in being able to do your job effectively, he says.

"People sometimes come to the risk management position with the idea that if they have the title they can just give orders and things will be done," Smith says. "They learn pretty quickly that it doesn't work that way." Leadership is a valuable skill, he says. "I like to see a risk manager who can give orders and make sure they're carried out, but who also knows how to negotiate and persuade people to do what you need." (See the charts below regarding survey respondents' age and time in health care.)

Data management is now a key priority for risk managers, says the immediate past president of ASHRM, Peggy B. Martin, ARM, MEd, DFASHRM, senior risk management coordinator with Lifespan Risk Services in Providence, RI. As many professions in health care overlap with risk management — quality improvement and patient safety, especially — the role of individuals in the health care setting can become muddied. What is emerging, Martin says, is that risk managers should take more responsibility for providing data that illustrate how certain actions affect claims and liability.

Quality data and patient safety data usually are available from other departments, and Martin notes that that information is valuable for those specific purposes. "But the data from those departments focuses on their goals, which are not necessarily the same goals as you have in risk management," she says. "The quality data may be all about making sure people get beta-blockers or antibiotics within an hour of surgery, but those aren't necessarily the things we get sued on."

Martin says it is a mistake for risk managers to depend on the data from other departments if that information does not specifically address risk management concerns. Too often risk managers let other hospital leaders compile all the data and then try to use that data for their own purposes, she says. That tack often fails because the data were compiled with an entirely different purpose in mind.

Risk managers have been afraid to collect and publish data because it is discoverable, Martin says. "We publish closed-claims data, but that's old — often 5 years old — and a lot of things happen in five years," she says. "I would hope that whatever the problem was back then has been fixed."

Collaborate with quality improvement

Martin says risk managers should push for a national database of claims information that could be used to quantify risks and spot trends. Risk managers also should strive for developing a common taxonomy for patient safety information and investigations, she says, so that information can be collected and published in a way that allows meaningful comparison.

This is not meant to be a competition between the quality improvement folks and risk management, Martin says. It should be a collaboration, she says. "The fact is that the two groups have somewhat different concerns, or else there wouldn't be any need for both to exist in health care, so the data should be collected, analyzed, and coded in ways that serve those different needs," Martin says.

If risk managers don't embrace data management more than they are doing now, other health care leaders will take the lead in patient safety, she says. Risk managers could be relegated to a lower position that takes orders from the others who gathered the data and divined meaning from it. "One of the ways you get the attention of senior leadership is by showing them hard data that says you drove down costs by this amount last year by doing X, Y, and Z," Martin says. "Other hospital players have mastered that more than risk managers, and we need to improve our abilities there."


For more information on career opportunities in health care risk management, contact:

  • Paul English Smith, JD, FASHRM, CPHRM, Vice President and General Counsel, Cabell Huntington Hospital, 1340 Hal Greer Blvd., Huntington, WV 25701. Telephone: (304) 526-2000. E-mail: psmith@chhi.org.
  • Peggy Martin, ARM, MEd, CPHRM, DFASHRM, Senior Risk Management Coordinator, Lifespan Risk Services, The Coro Building, 167 Point St., Suite 170, Providence, RI 02903. Telephone: (401) 444-6491. E-mail: PMartin2@Lifespan.org.