7 reasons why your organization needs a chief medical officer

Adding a CMO to your C-suite may be crucial as your organization navigates the "new normal"

7 reasons why your organization needs a chief medical officer

A chief medical officer (CMO) is a role you commonly encounter in healthcare, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies. However, the CMO role has been garnering more attention as a response to changing healthcare needs brought on by the pandemic.

Nowadays, many companies are adding CMOs to their C-suite – and here are reasons why you should, too.

Read more: What exactly is a chief medical officer – and should you hire one?

Why are chief medical officers on the rise in 2021?

A chief medical officer acts as an organization’s head doctor, handling a combination of clinical and administrative duties.

At the beginning of the pandemic, CMOs became the face of their organizations’ pandemic response. Since then, companies have been hiring CMOs to ensure that a capable medical leader can guide the organization through a health crisis. In fact, CMO postings have increased by 18.7% from last year, according to analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies.

Salesforce chief medical officer Ashwini Zenooz explains how her role has expanded: “In the absence of consistent messages from federal and local government, employers – and the [CMO] specifically – became reliable sources of truth for employees, interpreting and updating rapidly changing health and safety guidelines.”

Aside from enforcing health and safety guidelines, Zenooz says that CMOs must also “monitor and manage the mental health of workers as they experience unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression.”

These levels are higher than last year’s, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).  APA’s recent survey found that 84% of adults have experienced feelings of anxiety, depression, sadness, anger, and stress since January 2021.

What are the qualifications of a chief medical officer?

According to Indeed and LinkedIn, a CMO needs to have the following skills:

  • Leadership skills
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • Analytic skills
  • Time management skills
  • Good attention to detail
  • Experience in training employees
  • Knowledge of medical best practices

Additionally, a CMO needs to possess the following qualifications:

  • A medical degree
  • An active physician’s license
  • Clinical and administrative experience

Other organizations might ask for more qualifications and requirements, such as having a graduate degree in business or health administration or being an experienced specialty doctor.

Reasons why you need a chief medical officer

Now let’s look at why your organization needs a CMO.

1. To coordinate a pandemic response network

Having a senior executive with experience in both healthcare and employee administration will ensure that your guidelines are effectively disseminated and enforced.

A CMO goes beyond coordinating the testing, vaccinations, and contact tracing of its employees – after all, these are responsibilities most human resource managers can take on.

Among the aspects of a pandemic response network that only a CMO can manage are ensuring the medical accuracy of your organization’s healthcare messaging, training volunteers in proper medical protocol, and liaising with the medical professionals of third-party healthcare providers.

Tyson Foods’s CMO Claudia Coplein, for example, initiated a partnership with Marathon Health to “open health clinics near its facilities to foster an ongoing 'culture of health.'"

Read more: COVID-19 response 'better' in countries led by women: study

2. To develop pandemic communication strategies

Implementing effective top-down communication strategies is necessary to reduce employee anxiety and stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. What strategies will work best within your organization? The CMO can collaborate and provide a medical perspective with HR leaders and managers to come up with an effective blueprint.

For example, Karen DeSalvo, CMO at Google, has been using YouTube to disseminate necessary information and health reports not only to the company’s global employees, but to the public as well.

3. To plan for post-pandemic scenarios

Strategic planning for a post-pandemic workplace is crucial to ensure that workers will continue to be safe when they return to their workplace. At the same time, organizations must also balance employee welfare with the company’s interests.

As licensed medical doctors, CMOs can monitor returning employees and immediately intervene if they identify healthcare issues.

"CMOs monitoring employee health at home and advising on the safe reopening of worksites must also factor in the impact of lost productivity," says Zenooz.

4. To implement and monitor new healthcare regulations

One of a CMOs’ chief responsibilities is to keep abreast of changing state and federal COVID-19 regulations and practices and implement them in the workplace.

“It’s a novel disease, with data emerging every day,” says Zenooz.

Back in February 2020, she had advised Salesforce’s executives to forego traveling, well before temporary travel bans were put into place, responding to the rising global threat by leveraging her medical expertise and executive position.

5. To monitor and manage employees’ general and mental health

As medical professionals, CMOs can set up and manage general and mental health practices for employees.

For example, Richard Heron, CMO at UK energy group British Petroleum, has been trying out mental health apps and programs to find ones that actually make a difference.

“I’m reminded of snake oil salespeople occasionally — some may be very good, some may be harmful. It’s important to be an informed buyer rather than looking at what other companies might have. Looking at the evidence on what works is important,” says Heron.

Read more: Mental Health Month: How to manage email anxiety

6. To maintain customers' health and safety

The safety of your customers is just as important, and CMOs play an important role in ensuring that health guidelines extend to them as well. They can safeguard potential exposure areas, establish meeting protocols, create customer polices grounded in established medical procedures, and make the final call on whether an event can safely proceed.

For instance, cruise ship company Royal Caribbean’s CMO Calvin Johnson led the charge in drawing up a sophisticated testing operation to determine whether a cruise is safe to sail or not.

CMOs in companies in the service and retail industries have also been instrumental in implementing and updating customer policies involving social distancing, mask-wearing, and handwashing.

7. To help with community strategies involving healthcare

CMOs have a better grasp of all the data involving healthcare within their organization – something that will help their workers and the communities they are operating in. This sharing of pertinent information will help establish better healthcare strategies that will benefit more people within their communities.

“The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we are each part of a larger social and biological organism, deeply connected and interdependent. Managing our collective health through and beyond this crisis is now all of our jobs,” says Zenooz.

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