Early in 2015, SHM published the updated edition of the “Key Principles and Characteristics of an Effective Hospital Medicine Group,” which is a free download via the SHM website. Every hospitalist group should use this comprehensive list of attributes as one important frame of reference to guide ongoing improvement efforts and long-range planning.
In this column and the next two, I’ll split the difference between the very brief list of top success factors for hospitalist groups I wrote about in my March 2011 column and the very comprehensive “Key Characteristics” document. I think these attributes are among the most important to support a high-performing group, yet they are sometimes overlooked or implemented poorly. They are of roughly equal importance and are listed in no particular order.
Deliberately Cultivating a Culture (or Mindset) of Practice Ownership
It’s easy for hospitalists to think of themselves as employees who just work shifts but have no need or opportunity to attend to the bigger picture of the practice or the hospital in which they operate. After all, being a good doctor for your patients is an awfully big job itself, and lots of recruitment ads tell you doctoring is all that will be expected of you. Someone else will handle everything necessary to ensure your practice is successful.
This line of thinking will limit the success of your group.
Your group will perform much better and you’re likely to find your career much more rewarding if you and your hospitalist colleagues think of yourselves as owning your practice and take an active role in managing it. You’ll still need others to manage day-to-day business affairs, but at least a portion of the hospitalists in the group should be actively involved in planning and making decisions about the group’s operations and future evolution.
I encounter hospitalist groups that have become convinced they don’t even have the opportunity to shape or influence their practice. “No one ever listens,” they say. “The hospital executives just do what they want regardless of what we say.” But in nearly every case, that is an exaggeration. Most administrative leaders desperately want hospitalist engagement and thoughtful participation in planning and decision making.
I wrote additional thoughts about the importance of a culture, or mindset, of practice ownership in August 2008. The print version of that column included a short list of questions you could ask yourself to assess whether your own group has such a culture, but it is missing from the web version and can be found at nelsonflores.com/html/quiz.html.
A Formal System of Group ‘Governance’
So many hospitalist groups rely almost entirely on consensus to make decisions. This might work well enough for a very small group (e.g., four or five doctors), but for large groups, it means just one or two dissenters can block a decision and nothing much gets done.
Disagreements about practice operations and future direction are common, so every group should commit to writing some method of how votes will be taken in the absence of consensus. For example, the group might be divided about whether to adopt unit-based assignments or change the hours of an evening (“swing”) shift, and a formal vote might be the only way to make a decision. It’s best if you have decided in advance issues such as what constitutes a quorum, who is eligible to vote, and whether the winning vote requires a simple or super-majority. And a formalized system of voting helps support a culture ownership.
I wrote about this originally in December 2007 and provided sample bylaws your group could modify as needed. Of course, you should keep in mind that if you are indeed employed by a larger entity such as a hospital or staffing company, you don’t have the ability to make all decisions by a vote of the group. Pay raises, staff additions, and similar decisions require support of the employer, and while a vote in support of them might influence what actually happens, it still requires the support of the employer. But there are lots of things, like the work schedule, system of allocating patients across providers, etc., that are usually best made by the group itself, and sometimes they might come down to a vote of the group.