All Content

Look No Further


As I follow Mary Jo Gorman, MD, MBA, as president of SHM, it might be tempting for me to simply follow the leading rule of the “organizational” Hippocratic Oath and “First do no harm.”

Put another way, in the context of the success SHM has enjoyed for the past 10 years, there is a case to be made for standing out of the way of our society’s positive momentum. But I believe we can—and will—do better than that. None of us can afford to be spectators in this arena.

We often speak of teamwork in healthcare, but precious few of us intuitively know what this means—much less have any education in its principles. During my training, the idea of teamwork amounted to little more than relying on a medical assistant to obtain daily weights or counting on the pharmacist to calculate and follow the appropriate dosing schedule for gentamicin. Common sense led me to understand that building an amicable relationship with the nursing staff made my working life easier.

Slowly, the advantages of structuring a more organized team in the hospital setting became more evident and helped encourage me to find ways of exploiting this concept further. As I look back, it was Jeff Dichter, MD, past president of SHM and director of the hospitalist program at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Ind., who emerged as one of the true champions for teamwork as an optimal model for inpatient care. Jeff would talk about it to everyone who would listen, in every venue he could reach. He wrote about it in this very column. He charged our meeting planners and committee chairs with integrating teamwork principles into our educational content as well as our advocacy and membership development initiatives. His vision of a true team galvanized SHM’s commitment to supporting a broad constituency, extending well beyond hospitalist physicians. Jeff knew care is never delivered by an individual; it’s always a team. And he believed this framework to be fully realized by way of building from a strong organizational agenda for quality improvement.

Speaking of quality in healthcare, I look no further than Mark Williams, MD, editor of the Journal of Hospital Medicine, for having built that agenda for our society through his own efforts as well as collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and other national entities. As another past president of SHM, Mark brought a level of organizational focus and rigor around quality improvement and patient safety that rose to the challenges outlined in two Institute of Medicine reports, “To Err is Human” and “Crossing the Quality Chasm.” He helped move “quality” from something we talk about to something we do. He pushed it from an espoused value to a core commitment of our specialty. Quality improvement is now inseparable from what I consider to be the true promise of hospital medicine: that care organized in well-orchestrated, well-resourced teams can deliver our patients remarkable improvements in the quality, safety, and experience of healthcare.

But how do we get this done? How do we take a relatively abstract notion of a team, channel its activities to drive measurable improvements in quality, and change the arcane systems of inpatient care so as to sustain and hardwire those improvements?

Leadership. Like it or not, each of you is regarded as one of—if not the—most important leaders in the hospital. Nursing, case management, physical therapy, patients, and families look to you to provide leadership for clinical and operational systems. You are the person most able to make meaningful decisions at the front-line level that directly affect the patient experience. You are called upon to lead and manage change in a volatile environment, to resolve the inevitable conflicts that change provokes, and to reconcile hospital business drivers with quality and safety imperatives.

Our immediate past president, Dr. Gorman, emphasized the crucial role we serve as leaders. Recognizing the tremendous development needs for skills and knowledge to effectively lead, SHM has created Leadership Academies and is working on e-discussion forums and mentoring programs to promote longitudinal learning. While we must unlearn some of the behaviors and beliefs seared into our brains during our traditional medical training, we must position ourselves to forge high-performing teams and lead the quality agenda.

You are the person most able to make meaningful decisions at the front-line level that directly affect the patient experience.

At a dinner during the SHM Annual Meeting in May, I sat with a senior leader from the American Medical Association’s Organized Medical Staff Section (AMA OMSS). He had flown in with other AMA representatives to meet with us on common interests. By the end of the evening, the late-career surgeon took me aside and said: “I have to tell you how touched I am by your organization. The passion, drive, and commitment of your membership is what’s missing in so many professional societies today. You must bring this passion to the larger house of medicine.”

As SHM enjoys 10 years of explosive growth and remarkable success, we need to balance the right to celebrate success with the duty not to rest on laurels. Much has been accomplished, but more than a life’s work lies before us. The road is complex and fraught with uncertainty. We might become frustrated with mounting complexity, tired with resistance to change, and fatigued with leading against the status quo. It is hard—and lonely—to confront the systems and issues that desperately need to be confronted on our journey to transform care. And it might be easy for us to become distracted from our core commitments to teamwork and leading quality by allowing our medical society to become more of a guild that defends our professional incomes and way of life. Yet I believe—I know—a much brighter future lies ahead than emerging as a casualty of temptation.

If the best predictor of behavior is past behavior, then our future will mirror the spirit in which SHM was founded. It’s the spirit an invited guest observed in a few short hours at our annual meeting. It’s the spirit that binds teamwork, quality improvement, and leadership into a unified approach to our professional endeavors. That spirit has a name: accountability. It’s the fundamental understanding that we are answerable to others, including patients, families, the community, hospital and medical staff, as well as each other, for the performance of the care systems in which we work.

Being accountable means we must rebuild trust of the broader public in hospital care, and that we follow through on the promise of hospital medicine. It means we own our mistakes, we agree that transparency and measurement will lead to better outcomes, and we commit to being part of the solution.

Accountability also mandates that we eliminate blame and “victimhood.” We cannot first think of ourselves as victims of a broken reimbursement model, or a lack of data or a hospital administration that “just doesn’t get it.” The real questions are: What can I do today about improving management of scarce resources? About the nursing shortage? About incorporating patient-safety principles into a new facility? About access to care and overcrowding? About the needless hospital deaths due to ventilator-assisted pneumonia (VAP), acute myocardial infarction, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus? About ensuring seamless transitions of patients throughout the care continuum?

Several years ago I spoke with Brent James, MD, executive director of the Institute for Health Care Delivery Research and vice president of medical research and continuing medical education at InterMountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the time, I was trying to learn quality improvement methods and practices. He reminded me of a quote Sir William Osler, the father of internal medicine, made at the end of his career when he gave an address at the Phipps Clinic in England to a group of young physicians who had recently completed training. They were about to embark on their careers early in the 20th century. “I am sorry for you young men of this generation,” he told the physicians. “Oh, you’ll do great things. You’ll have great victories, and standing on our shoulders you’ll see far. But you can never have our sensations. To have lived through a revolution, to have seen a new birth of science, new dispensation of health, redesigned medical training, remodeled hospitals, a new outlook for humanity. That is not given to every generation.”

While it seems appropriate in retrospect that these young physicians were indeed entering a time after which tremendous change and transformation had taken place, it seems equally appropriate to consider ourselves one of those generations that must lead and drive change of the magnitude of which Osler spoke. As we lead teams in the hospital to revolutionize the state of healthcare quality, we must begin every thought, every action, by holding ourselves and each other accountable for being part of the solution. To begin, we need look no further than ourselves. TH

Dr. Holman is president of SHM.

Next Article:

   Comments ()