The Contemporary Physician Leader Embodies the “Triple Aim”

The “Triple Aim”—a term coined by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement to embody the goals of better care, controlled costs, and improved health—has become a rallying cry in the health care industry. As the U.S. health care market focuses on changing incentives to accomplish the Triple Aim, a new generation of physician leaders, such as Nancy Boerner  and Mark Werner, is emerging. These leaders are helping their organizations clinically and financially transform.

John Walker, MD, is another such leader. He is the first CMO of one of the nation’s leading accountable care organizations, Cornerstone Health Care. After practicing gastroenterology for 17 years, seven at High Point, N.C. physician group, he became the organization’s inaugural CMO in 2010.Miles Snowden, MD, MPH, CEBS Chief Medical Officer, OptumHealth

Dr. Walker’s hiring coincided with Cornerstone’s push towards accountable care, and in the past three years, the multi-specialty practice has undergone a major makeover. He led Cornerstone’s effort to become a recognized patient-centered medical home (PCMH) and under his direction has significantly improved the practice’s patient satisfaction scores. Most significantly, he directed the redesign of the organization’s primary care models. Cornerstone is now one of the first physician practices in the country where 100 percent of their payer contracts include a quality-based incentive.

Cornerstone’s expectations of him are very different from traditional physician leaders, who are often asked to focus on compliance, medical staff affairs, and performance.

“I see myself as the steward of the ‘Triple Aim’ at Cornerstone,” Dr. Walker said. “I’m responsible for all the things in the company to help us lower the cost of care, improve the quality of care and make our patient experience better.”

Although the CMO’s role has evolved, Dr. Walker said that relationship-building skills are still important for the physician leader.

“First, you have to have a thick skin,” Dr. Walker said. “Second, you need to be a good listener, which is a skill that can be developed. And third, I think that being able to work collaboratively with physicians is very important. They need to realize that you understand their concerns.”

For more profiles of physician leaders, click here to download my new white paper: The Contemporary Physician Leader.


–Miles Snowden, Chief Medical Officer, Optum

Leave a Reply