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Expert Advice on Being Effective Compliance Officers: Thoughts and Tips

Everywhere one looks, the call is for compliance officers to be effective, but how can we meet this challenge? In seeking answers and ideas, a number of compliance experts with years of experience in building, managing, evaluating, and enhancing compliance programs offer their thoughts.

Carrie Kusserow, MA, CHC, CHPC, CCEP, advises compliance officers to “continually sell the program to the Board and executive leadership, and inform them of what is expected of them and their personal risks for ignoring their fiduciary compliance oversight responsibilities.” If these company leaders buy in to compliance efforts, others will follow. OIG ‘White Papers,’ such as the Practical Guidance for Health Care Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight, are useful resources.

Al Bassett, JD, noted that, “Compliance officers must engage company leadership to support the compliance program. This includes developing and implementing a fully operational Executive Compliance Committee (ECC) that is informed on and responsive to compliance issues. The more involved the ECC is, the greater the support and empowerment for the compliance officer.”

According to Jillian Concepcion, MPA, CHC, CHPC, “Compliance officers should maintain ongoing metrics to benchmark the compliance program’s progress, to reassure executive leadership and the Board that the compliance officer is being effective. This also provides a road map for program improvement and healthcare compliance solutions.  I have found that the most cost effective means of achieving this is by using a professionally developed and independently administered compliance knowledge survey that is anchored in a large database to permit comparison to other health care entities. This will provide evidence of employees’ understanding of the program.”

Steve Forman, CPA, advises that, “To be truly effective, it is critical to convince front line managers to carry the compliance message to their subordinates through word of mouth and example. What managers say, and the attitudes they project to their staff, is more powerful than pronouncements from the compliance officer or the CEO. The compliance officer can quickly check on the program’s effectiveness by discussing the compliance program with front line supervisors and managers.”

Suzanne Castaldo, JD, CHC, has said, “It is critical to act upon information received from the work force, which calls for the compliance officer to promote receiving information from management, Human Resources (HR), the compliance office, and the compliance hotline. If the work population is not sold on the organization being receptive to their input, or they do not believe their concerns will be heard, the compliance program will never be effective.”

Compliance expert Tom Herrmann, JD, has said, “The compliance officer needs to make every effort to cultivate working relationships with other functions that overlap with the Compliance Department, including HR, Privacy and Security Offices, Legal Counsel, and Internal Audit Departments. If their operations contradict or conflict with each other, it can overshadow the good work of the compliance officer and diminish the compliance program’s effectiveness. The starting point for developing cooperation and coordinating efforts is to establish protocols that define working relationships and methods of cooperative effort.”

Kashish Parikh-Chopra, JD, MBA, CHC, CHPC, emphasizes that, “Effective compliance officers are successful in promoting employee compliance communication channels, particularly hotlines, that ensure complaints and allegations are investigated promptly and resolved professionally.  Providing an additional, anonymous reporting mechanism can lead to discovering issues at a point where damage could be mitigated or eliminated.”

Catie Heindel, JD, CHC, CHPC, recommends that, “Compliance officers continue to persevere in the face of resistance in business environments where leadership, employees, and medical staff consider compliance to be a distraction to their mission of delivering service.”

As stated by Lisa Shuman, MPA, CHC, CHPC, “All compliance programs are a work in progress and are never completed. New issues always arise in healthcare compliance, which is why compliance officers should continuously develop their company’s compliance program. The OIG calls for periodic, independent evaluation of compliance programs. Compliance officers should promote these evaluations as a way to improve program effectiveness. A professional evaluation will display program development, as well as identify opportunities for improvement.”