Multi-Site Hospital Medicine Group Leaders Face Similar Challenges

John Nelson, MD, MHM

Let’s call them multi-site, hospital medicine group leaders, or just multi-site HMG leaders. Once rare, they’re now becoming common, and among the many people now holding this job are:

  • Dr. Doug Apple at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Mich;
  • Dr. Tierza Stephan at Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minn.;
  • Dr. Darren Thomas at St. John Health System in Tulsa, Okla.;
  • Dr. Thomas McIlraith at Dignity Health in Sacremento, Calif.; and
  • Dr. Rohit Uppal at Ohio Health in Columbus, Ohio.

The career path that led to their current position usually follows a standard pattern. They are a successful leader of a single-site hospitalist program when, through merger or acquisition, their hospital becomes part of a larger system. The executives responsible for this larger system—typically four to eight hospitals—realize that the HMGs serving each hospital in the system vary significantly in their cost, productivity, and performance on things like patient satisfaction and quality metrics. So they tap the leader of the largest (or best performing) HMG in the system to be system-wide hospitalist medical director. They nearly always choose an internal candidate rather than recruiting from outside, which brings some level of cohesion in operations and performance improvement.

Multi-Site Challenges

This is not an easy job. After all, it isn’t easy to serve as lead hospitalist for a single-site group, so it makes sense that the difficulties and challenges only increase when trying to manage groups at different locations.

The new multi-site HMG leader is busy from the first day on the job. The HMG at one site is short on staffing and needs help right away, patient satisfaction scores are poor at the next site, and so on. Although putting out these fires is important, the new leader also needs to think about how to accomplish a broader mission: ensuring greater cohesion across all groups.

A large portion—maybe even the majority—of all transfers in the system will be between a hospitalist at the small hospital and a partner hospitalist at the large hospital. Things will work best when the transferring and receiving hospitalists know something about the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s hospitals.

I don’t think there is a secret recipe to ensure success in such a job. Prerequisites include the usual leadership skills, such as patience, good listening, and diplomacy (collectively, one’s EQ, or emotional quotient), along with lots of energy and decisive action. But there are a number of practical matters to address that can influence the level of success.

Cohesion vs. Independence

In most situations, a health system will benefit from some common operating principles across all the HMGs who serve its hospitals. For example, it usually makes sense for any portion of compensation tied to performance (e.g., a bonus) to be based on the same performance domains at all sites. For example, if metrics such as the observed-to-expected mortality ratio (O:E ratio) and patient satisfaction are important to the hospital system, then they should probably influence hospitalist compensation at every site. However, it might be reasonable to target a level of performance for any given domain higher at one site than at another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *