Current Affairs

18 Months Like No Other

22nd October 2021

The International Hospital Federation (IHF) is the NGO that has been the voice of international healthcare for more than 90 years, promoting excellent management standards among hospitals and health service organizations. Boardroom talked to CEO Ronald Lavater, as he is approaching the end of his first year at IHF - which was obviously full of challenges... but also opportunities.

Could you briefly present your association and what you do?

The International Hospital Federation (IHF) has representation from over 100 different organizations, and, through them, we are connected to over 20,000 hospitals and healthcare organizations. The IHF is a place for knowledge exchange and collaboration. Our activities and services focus on thematic areas to tackle the most important issues facing hospitals right now, such as sustainability and digital health. 

Our partners range from not-for-profit, non-governmental, international associations to commercial companies. Whether we act bilaterally or as part of large networks, collaboration with other stakeholders is an opportunity to ensure our members’ voice is heard by the international healthcare community. 

Our flagship event is the annual World Hospital Congress, which brings together leaders and decision-makers of hospitals, health services, and healthcare organizations to discuss key drivers of national and international policy, management, financial trends and solutions. 

What are the main challenges you’ve had to overcome in the last 18 months?

Within the IHF Secretariat, our main challenge was to refocus our activities quickly to give our members the best possible support as they tackled the pandemic.

Our members faced unprecedented challenges and in many cases are still struggling with it. Hospitals have learned many important lessons like resiliency and the ability to adjust to a very quickly changing situation. We also saw great examples of exemplary leadership and we now recognise how vital adaptability is as a leadership trait. 

We also developed an appreciation for how fragile the hospital supply chain can be and how under-investment in public health networks negatively impacted the response to this pandemic. We witnessed the tremendous effort from our clinical staff to care for patients in extremely difficult situations and we received the attention from policymakers which is necessary to reform and, in many cases, increase investment in our healthcare delivery system. Another big challenge we’ve seen is the dramatic increase in the need for telemedicine, and this development has demonstrated many benefits.

It has been 18 months like no other and the best hospital leaders and learning and leaning in to make real improvements to their organizations to be ready for the next crisis. As a members’ organization, we are focused on doing the same at the IHF Secretariat.

How do you see the future of conferences? Is the hybrid model here to stay? How do you anticipate your conference in Barcelona to be like?

The traditional conference has changed forever. We believe that it will never go back to the way it was and that conferences need to adjust to the new environment. The hybrid model is here to stay, which gives us all a chance to rethink the way we organize and attend conferences to get the best out of them. The future of large events includes simultaneous content streaming online as well as closer attention from event attendees to their carbon footprint and the event’s carbon footprint. 

Also, competition for attendees is intense and this incredible competitive landscape for conferences will not go away. We are competing for people’s time when they have many options available to access content. Our conferences need to be about connecting people and not just providing a series of lectures. 

Even with these challenges, the IHF is committed to investing the right level of time, energy, and resources to make the World Hospital Congress our premier event. This year the 44th World Hospital Congress takes place in Barcelona (Spain) on 8–11 November. It will be the first time that Congress takes place in hybrid format with the program available for both in-person and virtual participants. It’s so important to ensure as many participants as possible can join us, regardless of whatever restrictions they may be complying with, and we’re excited to be providing such an integrated and inclusive experience in real time.

As a organisation, how did you accelerate your digital transformation?

The IHF has been using digital communication for a number of years – as a global organization it was already part of what we were doing. However, the use of video communication like Zoom and Teams was accelerated for us along with everyone else in the world. For example, in the year that I’ve been CEO of the IHF, I can count on one hand the times I’ve been invited to join traditional teleconferences or that someone has called me on an office landline telephone. Almost all our conversations have been on Teams and Zooms. 

We have also allowed our staff to continue to work remotely when it makes sense. However, we believe spending time together as a team is important to build the right culture and to encourage active communication and collaboration. We believe the pendulum of remote versus office work will swing back to a good balance which will be right for the organization and employees. 

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