The challenges facing SHM are very different than they were 10 years ago. In the 1990s, the focus was on building a society that would represent the needs of the practicing hospitalist. Converting NAIP, with its 200 members, to SHM, with its now 10,000 members, was certainly no easy task, but the society then enjoyed some luxuries no longer afforded to an organization the size of the modern-day SHM. Early on, SHM was far from the public eye, escaping public scrutiny for each of its actions. With only a few hundred members, the society was intimate: Almost every member knew of every action before it happened. And the agenda, compared with today’s standards, was reasonably focused.
But times are different now. The organization is much larger and complex, and the challenges we now face are collectively a product of our success. SHM is squarely in the spotlight; every decision is closely monitored by the public eye. We now have a voice such that when we speak, people listen. But with greatness comes responsibility, and because we are in the spotlight, we must be especially careful in how we speak, lest the message be misunderstood. Further, with more than 10,000 members, 50 full-time staff, 44 committees, and nearly 500 physician volunteers, the organization no longer has the luxury of every action being known by every member prior to its enactment.
More challenging still is our agenda, which has grown to be a diverse and far-reaching strategy. While impressive and admirable, the size of this “footprint” creates new challenges in balancing the need to be “nimble” (i.e., being able to act quickly enough to be timely and effective) versus being “thorough” (i.e., ensuring that each action is appropriately vetted prior to execution).
I suspect that there are few practicing hospitalists who have not read To Err is Human or Crossing the Quality Chasm.1,2 Both make this essential point about quality: In complex systems, mistakes are bound to happen. And when errors do occur, each member of the team must be ready to take responsibility for the mistake, and immediately begin seeking systematic solutions to ensure that it does not happen again. SHM’s focus is to advance quality for all hospitalized patients. But an organization can only be effective if it emulates the principles that it hopes its members will individually espouse.
So let me start with this: There have been mistakes along the way.
That’s the hard truth. I believe that none of the mistakes have been intentional; rather, these missteps have been a product of an organization that has grown so fast, and whose success has gained so much public attention, that its infrastructure has struggled to keep pace with its growth. Any hospitalist who has seen his or her service size double in the span of a year or two knows of what I speak: As growth occurs, the approach to dealing with daily business has to evolve to meet new demands. If it does not, errors result.