2019 Compliance Institute Guest Blogs: The Art of Collaboration


By Chris Kuhlmann, MBA, CHC, CHPC
Compliance Officer & Privacy Officer
Spectrum Health Lakeland

Early in my compliance career, my CEO challenged me to be collaborative and welcoming as I built our compliance program.  He was concerned that traditional views of compliance programs were more about “gotcha” and less about solving problems and providing actual support.  Thus, my journey began to create such a compliance program.

During the last 4 years, I’ve discovered collaboration is not an event nor a mindset to be invoked during the height of an investigation or hot topic.  Rather, collaboration is about the relationships you build every day before you’ve discovered actual problems.  For example, we have spent significant efforts to forge tight, team-oriented relationships with Legal, Revenue Cycle, Finance, Data Analytics, Quality, and IT just to name a few.  None of these departments report to Corporate Compliance, but all have a direct impact on the success of our program.

Do you want to know if you have built a culture of collaboration?  Here is the measuring stick.  Do staff contact you when they think there is an issue, or do they reach out to you to problem solve?  I’m referencing the proactive nature of staff seeking the advice and consult of compliance before the organization is at risk.  For example, in 2018, 62% of the compliance intakes at Spectrum Health Lakeland were departments asking for compliance to consult on current or future activity before problems occurred.  I don’t know about you, but it’s far more desirable to help solve complex issues rather than trying to fix them once the damage is done.  True collaboration means you are a stakeholder in the solution, not a roadblock to progress.

So how do you go about the tough work of collaboration?  In our organization, it is visibility, love, and respect.  To the latter, we spend much time talking about love and respect in regards to our patients to create an exceptional experience.  However, this is just as applicable to our team members as it is patients.  Treating those we serve in this manner helps create trust.  Too often, people only see compliance personnel when there is a problem.  Be intentional to attend meetings, functions, and other events in the organization that allow you to establish relationships outside the intensity of an investigation.  As a general rule, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  By showing love and respect, you communicate that you care.  Being visible with this attitude will encourage people to invite you as a partner in solutions.