Q: Do you think the schedule improves the quality of patient care?
A: The continuity of care is incredible. If you are admitted and discharged between Mondays, you have one hospitalist in charge of your entire case, instead of multiple physicians being on call for you. That increases patient satisfaction, reduces medical errors, and eliminates the need for unnecessary tests when new physicians take over. I’m also a huge believer that scheduling brings out the best and worst in hospitalists.
Q: How does it bring out the best in them?
A: As medical directors, we have to find ways to help hospitalists take more ownership in their patients and their program. If they’re thinking, “My shift is ending and I’m going to be off and I can hand this issue off to the next doctor,” that can have a tremendous effect on the quality of care and the way a hospitalist delivers medicine. With our schedule, you can’t pawn off your responsibility to the nocturnist or the weekend guy. … If something goes wrong or if the ball gets dropped, there’s no one else to blame it on.
Q: You developed a system at Decatur through which patient discharge summaries are sent electronically to primary-care physicians, often before the patient leaves the hospital. Have the primaries been receptive?
A: Absolutely. Communication is the mother’s milk of hospitalists. Some hospitalist programs are very large, they’re very busy, or there’s no incentive for them to do this because they’re the only game in town. But I practice in a mid-size community and I know all of these doctors. My reputation is my bond. I have to provide good service.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your role as a hospitalist?
A: I love solving problems for a patient. I also love how the relationship builds. You introduce yourself to a patient and their family as a hospitalist and they’re thinking, “Who the heck are you?” For a few seconds, it’s like meeting someone on a blind date. And when they’re discharged, they tell you they had a pleasant experience and they appreciate your help. It’s a courtship at a rapid pace.
Q: What do you consider to be your biggest challenge?
A: Recruitment; the administration asking us to take on more responsibilities; burnout. … We’re a typical hospitalist program; I think the problems are pretty universal.
Q: How do you address those challenges?
A: As medical director, you’re always navigating political and personal minefields. It comes back to developing relationships. The only way to earn goodwill is to give and provide service. That’s a problem some hospitalist programs run into. They want to instantly demand respect. You can’t demand it; you have to earn it. Sometimes hospitalists feel dumped on. Those are opportunities … to provide service in a willing and positive way instead of complaining. I’m not saying you have to be a whipping boy, but there are times when you have to give a little to get a little. That’s where the wisdom of the medical director comes in and sets the whole tone.
Q: What’s ahead for the academic side of your career?
A: We’re considering the possibility of starting a family practice fellowship program for attending residents who finish but want to go into the field of hospital medicine and want additional training. It’s not a done deal, but it’s an exciting possibility.
Q: How so?
A: Every medical director says they have a hard time recruiting. One way we can help solve the problem is by producing more hospitalists. We can’t just complain. We have to increase the pool of professionals interested in our model, train them, and get them integrated into our system.