Tag Archives: physician

5 Reasons to Put Physicians in Charge of Hospitals

This post was first released on KevinMD.com.

Putting physicians in charge of hospitals seems like a no-brainer, but it isn’t what usually happens unfortunately. A study published in Academic Medicine states that only about 4% of hospitals in the United States are run by physician leaders, which represents a steep decline from 35% in 1935. In the most recent 2018 Becker’s Hospital Review “100 Great Leaders in Healthcare,” only 29 are physicians. 

The stats don’t lie, however. Healthcare systems run by physicians do better. When comparing quality metrics, physician-run hospitals outperform non-physician-run hospitals by 25%. In the 2017-18 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals Honor Roll, the top 4 hospitals (Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital) have physician leaders. Similar findings have been reported in other countries as well.

While not all physicians make good leaders, those that do really stand out. For those physicians who may consider applying for hospital leadership positions, there are certain characteristics that should distinguish them from non-physician applicants and help them make the transition successfully. Of course, this is my opinion, but I think it comes down to these 5 things:

  1. Physicians are bound by an oath. The Hippocratic Oath in some form is recited by every medical school graduate around the world. This oath emphasizes that medicine is a calling and not just a job: “May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.” Physicians commit themselves to the treatment of disease and the health of human beings. There is no similar oath for non-physician healthcare executives.
  2. Physicians know how to make tough decisions. This is crucial to every informed consent process. Physicians need to curate available evidence, weigh risks and benefits, and share their recommendations with patients and families in situations that can literally be life or death. This is essential to the art of medicine. Effectively translating technical jargon into language that lay people can understand allows others to participate in the decision making process. This applies both to the bedside and the boardroom.
  3. Physicians are trained improvement experts. They learn the diagnostic and treatment cycle which requires listening to patients (also known as taking a history), evaluating test results, considering all possible relevant diagnoses, and instituting an initial treatment plan. As new results emerge and the clinical course evolves, the diagnosis and treatment plan are refined. In my medical specialty of anesthesiology, this cycle occurs rapidly and often many times during a complex operation. These skills translate well to diagnosing and treating sick healthcare systems.
  4. Physicians are lifelong learners. When laparoscopic surgical techniques emerged, surgeons already in practice had to find ways to learn them or be left behind. Medicine is always changing. To maintain medical licensure, physicians must commit many hours of continuing medical education every year. New research articles in every field of medicine are published every day. For these reasons, physicians cannot hold onto “the way it has always been done,” and this attitude serves them well in healthcare leadership.
  5. Physicians work their way up. Every physician leader started as an intern, the lowest rung of the medical training ladder. Interns rotate on different services within their specialty, working in a team with higher-ranked residents under the supervision of an attending physician. As physicians progress in training through their years of residency, they get to know more and more hospital staff in other disciplines and take on more patient care responsibility. A very important lesson learned during residency is that the best ideas can come from anyone; occasionally the intern comes up with the right diagnosis when more senior team members cannot.

While these qualities are necessary, they are not sufficient. To be effective healthcare leaders, physicians need to develop their administrative skills in personnel management, team building, and strategic planning. They will have to learn to understand and manage hospital finances, meet regulatory requirements and performance metrics, and find ways to support and drive innovation. For physicians who have already completed their medical training, a commitment to effective healthcare leadership will require as much time and dedication as their medical studies. However, if they don’t do this, there are plenty of non-physicians who will.

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To the Next Generation of Physician Leaders

I was recently invited to visit an academic anesthesiology department to speak to the residents about becoming a leader (see SlideShare). In addition to recognizing the honor and privilege of addressing this important topic with the next generation of physician anesthesiologists, I had two other initial thoughts: 1) I must be getting old; and 2) This isn’t going to be easy.

Balloon FiestaI came up with a short list of lessons that I’ve learned over the years. While some examples I included are anesthesiology-specific, the lessons themselves are not. Please feel free to edit, adapt, and add to this list; then disseminate it to the future physician leaders who will one day take our places.

  1. First and foremost, be a good doctor. Always remember that we as physicians take an oath. In the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath commonly recited at medical school graduations today, we say, “May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.” As a physician anesthesiologist, we care for the most vulnerable of patients—those who under anesthesia cannot care for themselves. Examples of anesthesiologists who do not honor their calling exist in the news and even scientific journals, but we cannot follow this path. 

     

  2. Define your identity. We live in the era of the “provider,” and this sometimes causes role confusion from the perspective of our patients. Team PhotoWe also don’t tend to do ourselves any favors. How many times have you heard someone say, “Hi I’m [first name only] with anesthesia”? According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists newsletter, approximately 60% of the public may not know that physician anesthesiologists go to medical school. While every member of the anesthesia care team plays a crucial role, the next level of non-physician provider in this model has one-tenth the amount of clinical training when compared to a physician anesthesiologist at graduation. I’ve written before about what I love about being an anesthesiologist, and being the physician whom patients trust to keep them safe during surgery is a privilege which comes with a great deal of responsibility.
  3. Consider the “big picture.” The health care enterprise is constantly evolving. Today, the emphasis is on value and not volume. Value takes into account quality and cost with the highest quality care at the lowest cost being the ultimate goal. The private practice model of anesthesiology has changed dramatically in the last few years with the growth of “mega-groups” created by vertical and horizontal integration of smaller practices and sometimes purchased by private investors. In this environment, physician anesthesiologists and anesthesiology groups will have to consider ways they can add value, improve the patient experience, and reduce costs of care in order to stay relevant and competitive.
  4. Promote positive change. Observe, ask questions, hypothesize solutions, collect data, evaluate results, draw conclusions, and form new hypotheses—these are all elements of the scientific method and clinical medicine. These steps are also common to process improvement, making physicians perfectly capable of system redesign. The key is establishing your team’s mission and vision, strategic planning and goal-setting, and regularly evaluating progress. Books have been written on these subjects, so I can’t do these topics justice here. In my opinion, physicians offer an important and necessary perspective that cannot be lost as healthcare becomes more and more business-like.
  5. Be open to opportunities. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I have written previously about the merits of saying yes. As a resident or new staff physician, it often seems impossible to get involved. However, most hospital committee meetings are open to guests. Consider going to one that covers a topic of interest and volunteer for a task if the opportunity presents itself. In addition, many professional societies invite members to self-nominate for committees or submit proposals for educational activities at their annual meetings.
  6. IMG_7673Thank your team. Taking the first steps on the path to leadership is not going to be easy. There will be many obstacles, not the least of which is time management. A high-functioning healthcare team of diverse backgrounds, skills, and abilities will accomplish much more than what an individual can do alone. Celebrate team wins. Respect each team member’s opinion even when it differs from yours.

A good leader should earn the trust of his or her team every day.

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Why the VA Inspires Me to be a Better Leader

VA_eagleInscribed on a plaque just below a statue of an eagle in front of my hospital is a famous quote from President Abraham Lincoln that begins, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle….”

It is the reason why the Veterans Affairs (VA) system exists.  It is the reason why we VA physicians come to work each day.

I am honored to care for our special patient population, and I admit to getting defensive when I hear negative, sensationalistic news about the VA.  In truth, VA physicians have good reasons to take pride in their health care system and should be inspired to take on leadership roles.

In 1994, the VA was by far the largest networked health care system in the US.  It consisted of 172 acute care hospitals, 350 hospital-based outpatient clinics, 206 counseling facilities, and 39 residential care facilities, with a budget of over $16 billion annually, and was “highly dysfunctional” according to an article co-authored by Kenneth W. Kizer, MD, MPH, the former Under Secretary of Health under President Clinton who headed the VA health care system from 1995-1999.

A decade later, the VA had turned around dramatically.  When Philip Longman, a writer with a long interest in health policy, looked for potential solutions to the healthcare crisis in the United States, he found his “muse” within the VA—not in the private sector.  He titled his 2007 book about the VA health care system:  Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than YoursWhat happened to make the VA go from worst to first?

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Kizer guided the VA to reset its focus on three core missions:

  • Providing medical care to eligible veterans to improve their health and functionality
  • Educating healthcare professionals
  • Conducting research to improve veteran care.

His strategies led to a dramatic transformation that took less than five years.  VA health care showed a statistically-significant improvement in all quality of care indicators after the reengineering when compared to the same indicators before, and these improvements were evident within the first two years.  By 2000, the VA outperformed Medicare hospitals on 12 of 13 quality of care indicators.  A comprehensive study using RAND Quality Assessment Tools showed that VA adherence to recommended processes of care exceeded a comparable national sample.  In terms of surgical care, the VA matched or outperformed non-VA programs in rates of morbidity and mortality.

Integral to this transformation was a remarkable nationwide rollout of an electronic health record in less than three years, with the last facility going live in 1999, long before most health care systems in the United States had even started.  Other notable achievements during this period of reengineering included:

  • 350,000 fewer inpatient admissions (FY 1999 vs. FY 1995) despite a 24% increase in patients treated overall;
  • A decrease in per-patient expenditures by 25%;
  • An increase in proportion of surgeries performed on an ambulatory basis (80% in FY 1999 vs. 35% in FY 1995);
  • A 10% increase in total number of surgeries performed with a decrease in 30-day morbidity and mortality;
  • VA health user satisfaction scores that exceeded the private sector; and
  • Realignment of the VA medical research program with establishment of a new translational research program, the Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI).

These achievements were not the result of one person’s efforts.  Change implementation required engagement of front line staff, especially the physicians and other health care providers.  Unfortunately last year’s VA waitlist scandal raised serious concerns related to veterans’ access to care, scheduling practices, and the reporting of performance metrics.  In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Kizer expressed his concerns regarding variability in the quality of care provided within VA in 2014 when compared to other top-tier integrated healthcare systems.  Some VA hospitals performed remarkably well while others did not, and some facilities severely lacked personnel and resources.

Flags FlyingToday, there are approximately 9 million veterans enrolled in VA health care, and the VA needs physicians to step up and be leaders.  Advanced technology (e.g., secure messaging, e-consultation, and clinical video telehealth) already exists within the VA to streamline communication between patients and physicians and can be used to promote patient-centered, personalized health care and improve access.  Some of the highest impact medical research in the world takes place within VA, performed by VA physician scientists, and requires leaders to advocate for continued funding.  The results of these studies and others should form the basis of best clinical practices that VA physician leaders need to disseminate and implement at their respective facilities.  VA physicians have pioneered the field of simulation education, and this represents one tool that may be used to facilitate dissemination.  The VA has arguably the richest and most mature electronic health record in the country, if not the world; yet these data are not easily accessible.  Physicians on the front lines of patient care, those engaged in research, and those in leadership positions need to advocate for resources to develop real-time analytics and harness the power of our patients’ data to guide clinical care decisions and make the health care system adaptable to the changing needs of patients.

Finally, I call on VA physician leaders to be innovators, designing and studying new interdisciplinary coordinated models of care, to improve outcomes and then share these models with each other.  We physicians need to work together as “One VA” to decrease variability within the system and improve quality and value throughout.

This post has also been featured on KevinMD.com

REFERENCES

  1. Kizer KW, Dudley RA: Extreme makeover: Transformation of the veterans health care system. Annu Rev Public Health 2009; 30: 313-39
  2. Jha AK, Perlin JB, Kizer KW, Dudley RA: Effect of the transformation of the Veterans Affairs Health Care System on the quality of care. N Engl J Med 2003; 348: 2218-27
  3. Asch SM, McGlynn EA, Hogan MM, Hayward RA, Shekelle P, Rubenstein L, Keesey J, Adams J, Kerr EA: Comparison of quality of care for patients in the Veterans Health Administration and patients in a national sample. Ann Intern Med 2004; 141: 938-45
  4. Choi JC, Bakaeen FG, Huh J, Dao TK, LeMaire SA, Coselli JS, Chu D: Outcomes of coronary surgery at a Veterans Affairs hospital versus other hospitals. J Surg Res 2009; 156: 150-4
  5. Grover FL, Shroyer AL, Hammermeister K, Edwards FH, Ferguson TB, Jr., Dziuban SW, Jr., Cleveland JC, Jr., Clark RE, McDonald G: A decade’s experience with quality improvement in cardiac surgery using the Veterans Affairs and Society of Thoracic Surgeons national databases. Ann Surg 2001; 234: 464-72
  6. Matula SR, Trivedi AN, Miake-Lye I, Glassman PA, Shekelle P, Asch S: Comparisons of quality of surgical care between the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the private sector. J Am Coll Surg 2010; 211: 823-32
  7. Bakaeen FG, Blaustein A, Kibbe MR: Health care at the VA: recommendations for change. JAMA 2014; 312: 481-2
  8. Kizer KW, Jha AK: Restoring trust in VA health care. N Engl J Med 2014; 371: 295-7

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Tips for Future Physician Leaders

This post has also been featured on KevinMD.com.

Our health care system needs more physician leaders. Physician-led accountable care organizations have been shown to improve the quality of patient care while reducing overall costs. Physicians, by their nature, tend to be goal-oriented, have the ability to gather and assimilate evidence, and make difficult decisions, but these traits do not always translate naturally into leadership skills. We are trained to make a diagnosis and map out a treatment plan in medical school and residency, but the typical curriculum does not include developing staff, leading teams, or strategic planning. One option to learn these skills is to get an MBA. However, going back to school is not an option for everyone (like me—at least not yet), and it may not be necessary. Besides first being a good doctor, here are a few tips that may help open up leadership opportunities:

1. Be open to possibilities. Sometimes an opportunity doesn’t always look like one. In other words, plans don’t always work out the way you think they will.

2. Say “yes” to things that sound like more work. Pick up that extra call or volunteer for that hospital committee. Saying “yes” can introduce you to many new people and experiences. If you say “yes” then follow through. New colleagues who see you as a finisher often go back to you again and introduce you to others.

3. Let people look after you. This may not be “mentorship” in the traditional sense. A friend of a friend or someone’s spouse you meet at a department function may introduce you to people with similar interests in clinical care, quality improvement, or research.

4. Give credit to others. “Taking credit” is not about featuring an individual or the leader—it should be about the group. You can’t implement change without a team, and as a leader you have to make sure the group gets the recognition it deserves.

5. Given the opportunity, lead and not just manage. “Leadership” and “management” are often used interchangeably (unfortunately), and managerial duties often come with any leadership position, but they are not the same. People want to follow a leader, not a manager.

In healthcare, a leader should set a good example of professionalism in clinical care, communications, and administrative work. A leader creates a shared vision for the group with a clear direction and celebration of the group’s accomplishments. A leader first invests in his or her staff members to develop them individually so their greater potential can benefit the group. A leader is inspired by his or her staff and is constantly listening and learning.

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