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The Compliance Officer of the Future

SAI360 and Strategic Management Services, LLC, conducted the 14th annual Healthcare Compliance Benchmark Survey to evaluate the current state and advancement of compliance program development and the chief compliance officer landscape in the healthcare industry.  

This survey—analyzed by Richard P. Kusserow, former DHHS Inspector General—aimed to gather valuable insights around the state of compliance officer roles, including 2023 trends related to experiences, education levels, career plans, and industry priorities. 

Chief compliance officers talk healthcare compliance and regulation

The survey is based on responses from organizations of all sizes, including hospitals, physician and group practices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers, long-term care, and behavioral health, presenting findings and analysis on the significance of results. 

Here are three key report takeaways specific to compliance officers. And a brief synopsis of these findings’ greater implications. 

Most Compliance Officers Have Advanced Degrees and 10+ Years of Experience

Compliance officers now have a high level of education and experience to effectively manage new compliance program challenges and mitigate future risks. 

According to our research, approximately one-third of respondents indicated their compliance officer had a legal education. 

Medical/nursing/clinical and business administration followed at 22 percent each, while audit/finance was reported by 12 percent. The remaining percentages—around five percent each—were government/public administration, personnel management, and arts/science. 

Additionally, we found most—65 percent—of compliance officers have graduate degrees. Nearly the same amount—around 70 percent—have at least ten years of experience working in healthcare compliance. More specifically, the average respondent has a minimum average of eight years of experience. 

Greater Implications 

Compliance officers play a crucial role in ensuring organizations operate ethically and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. 

The role of a chief compliance officer (CCO) requires a blend of advanced education and relevant experience, and expertise. 

As a result, recruiting qualified CCOs and compliance staff can be challenging. For example, according to a survey by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE), 70 percent of healthcare organizations struggle with filling compliance positions.  

Compliance teams tend to be short-handed. For instance, 55 percent of healthcare organizations, said the SCCE, report having inadequate staff to manage their compliance programs.  

Healthcare organizations may therefore need to develop more robust strategies to attract and retain qualified compliance professionals. 

Most Compliance Officers Plan to Stay 

Although some compliance officers may seek new opportunities, the majority tend to stay in their current roles. 

Approximately two-thirds of respondents said they planned to remain on their current career track. 

Only 10 percent expressed their intent to pursue a new compliance opportunity elsewhere, while three percent indicated that they would be moving outside of compliance altogether.  

However, around 20 percent of respondents remained undecided about their future career plans, posing a significant question mark. 

Greater Implications 

With 20 percent unsure of what their professional future holds, healthcare organizations have a responsibility to attract and retain qualified compliance professionals.  

This perhaps highlights the need for: 

  • Competitive compensation packages 
  • Training opportunities  
  • More competitive salaries 
  • Scholarship opportunities for relevant degrees and studies 

Initiatives like these ensure healthcare organizations can successfully navigate healthcare’s complex regulatory environment and remain protected from potential compliance risks.  

Addressing Compliance High-Risk Areas Remains a Top Priority

One of the most significant compliance challenges facing organizations, according to our survey, is the ability to address high-risk areas.  

Roughly 25 percent of respondents identified this as their biggest challenge for 2023. Additionally, approximately 20 percent of respondents noted resource limitations as a significant challenge, while a slightly lower number cited meeting changes in the regulatory/enforcement environment.  

One in eight respondents highlighted coordination with other control functions (human resources, legal, audit, risk management, etc.). The remaining two categories that received notable attention were improving senior management relations and hiring qualified staff.  

The most significant change from the previous year’s survey was the increase in the number of respondents citing challenges in their relationships with leaders. 

Greater Implications 

These findings suggest organizations face significant challenges in addressing compliance risks, particularly in high-risk areas. And the fact that resource limitations and regulatory changes are also major challenges only highlights the complexity of the compliance landscape.  

The need to identify the areas of highest risk and coordinate among various control functions underscores the importance of an integrated technology approach to compliance management.  

The increase in challenges related to leadership underscores the need for organizations to prioritize building a strong culture of compliance and fostering positive relationships with senior leadership, which sits on a foundation of solid policy management backed up with controls, ethics and compliance training, and a seat at the boardroom table for the Chief Compliance Officer. 

For more research findings, read our 2023 Healthcare Compliance Benchmark Report here. 

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