“We’re working with an intense sense of urgency at HHS because we know that is a source of frustration to doctors on the frontlines,” Dr. DeSalvo says. “We not only hear it all the time when we’re out speaking with folks, but some of us still practice and will shortly be practicing again, so it’s very real to us to know that this has to get better. What we don’t want is for people to be frustrated with the technology. We want it to lift them up and help make their practice better. We also want it to be an enabler for consumers.”
Dr. Wachter has an easy way to remember how many annual meeting lectures he’s given: The 10th was the one where he dressed up as Elton John, sang, and played the piano on stage. That was in Las Vegas, of course.
This year? Don’t expect the piano, or singing for that matter. His HM16 theme will be more sober, one of caution and the importance of perspective.
The early title, he tells The Hospitalist, is “Why Culture Is Key to Improvement … And Why Hospitalists Are the Key to Hospital Culture.” The title might change, and the precise direction and details of his talk are still in flux, he says.
But the thrust will be a concern that, with a blizzard of quality improvement (QI) projects and process analyses being taken on by hospitalists, hospitalists are not immune to the burnout we’re seeing throughout medicine. A bad vibe is creeping in, he fears, and unless there’s more awareness of, and attention to, the culture itself—and not just a grim soldiering on from one initiative to another—the field will suffer.
“There’s a risk that we’ll lose sight of the people and culture within the organization,” Dr. Wachter says. “Even good people are beginning to say, ‘I just can’t do another QI project; I just can’t do another thing.’”
He wants hospitalists to think “more deeply” about the issues of culture, how the workforce is being managed, and “that we’re focusing on the right things in the right way.”
He hopes to call on hospitalists and hospitalist leaders to continue to recognize “the importance of the human spirit in all of this.”
So how worried is he?
“It won’t be a downer,” he says. “I still think we’re in great shape, but I am a bit worried, in part, because of our successes. We grew so fast, and we became so important to our organizations. We have to be sure we’re taking care of ourselves.”
So many hospitalists now have leadership roles. That’s a good thing, he adds, “but it does mean that as people are beginning to be burned out or organizations are struggling with dealing with initiative fatigue, we’re the first ones that are going to feel that because we are disproportionately involved.” TH
Thomas R. Collins is a freelance writer in South Florida.