What I Learned


As I write, I’m fighting the jet stream from Washington, D.C., to Denver, midflight on my return from HM10. I’m 30,000 feet above the ground—literally and figuratively—my mind spinning with the thoughts, ideas, and memories from the largest gathering of hospitalists ever. In the end, 2,500 hospitalists descended on our nation’s capital. Shrouded by the din of healthcare reform, we discussed, deliberated, and discovered what’s new in the clinical, political, and programmatic world of HM. Out of this churn, I learned a lot. Here’s but a small sample.

Smart People = Smart Solutions

I learned that if you put really smart people in a room and give them a problem to grapple with, they come up with really smart solutions. At the inaugural Academic Hospital Medicine Leadership Summit, 100 of the brightest, most influential academic hospitalists convened to tackle the problems facing our field.

The output was an amazing crop of inventive ideas aimed at taming the vexing issues surrounding clinical sustainability, academic viability, and career satisfaction. SHM leadership has heard the cry and promises to work closely with the academic community to transform these smart solutions into future initiatives.

Nearly everyone in the crowd felt it was important that SHM have an opinion regarding the legislation and continue to work closely with Congress to ensure its implementation helps our most important constituent—our patients.

Hospitalists Support Healthcare Reform, Should Collude with Hospitals

I learned that most of us support the recently passed healthcare reform legislation, with a few notable dissenters. In response to a question from the chair of SHM’s Public Policy Committee, the vast majority of attendees at the opening plenary session raised their hands affirmatively in response to the question of whether they support the reform bill. Meanwhile, nearly everyone in the crowd felt it is important that SHM have an opinion regarding the legislation and continue to work closely with Congress to ensure its implementation helps our most important constituent—our patients.

Finally, I learned that Ron Greeno, CMO of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Cogent Healthcare, believes that the development of accountable-care organizations might lead hospitalists to align with hospitals to keep costs down. In fact, he saw this as a welcome, intended consequence. In his opinion, this “collusion” promises to raise the quality of care and reduce waste in the system—a statement that was met with applause from the plenary crowd.

The Healthcare Paradox

I learned that blogs save lives. Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, roused the crowd during his keynote address by relating the power of transparency. Bothered by the paradox that the medical profession, comprising the most well-intentioned people in the world, could kill so many people through errors (ranked the No. 4 public health hazard in the U.S.), Levy decided to make his hospital’s struggles public.

On his blog, Running a Hospital (, he took the extraordinary step of publically documenting the rates of harm caused at his medical center for the world to see. Additionally, he set audacious goals to reduce the amount of harm to zero. He encouraged hospital staff to raise issues of safety and efficiency as a way to avoid the workarounds—shortcuts—that ultimately increase variability and reduce quality without addressing the core problem.

In response, the staff swarms the problem to rapidly improve the process and ultimately return the system back to homeostasis. The results of this effort can be viewed at Levy’s hospital’s website (

Which Hill Will You Climb?

I learned that leadership is the ability to help people address problems that make the world better. At a much-anticipated presentation, Peter Pronovost, MD, of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore related a transformative story from his youth. At a summer camp, each boy was assigned to one of three groups and tasked with climbing a seemingly insurmountable hill. The first camp counselor pummeled the group with overbearing directions, directives, and derision, and in the end the group failed to conquer the hill. The second counselor took a more relaxed approach, giving the group essentially no direction. They, too, failed.

The final counselor offered nothing but the inspiration of how marvelous the view from the top of the hill would be and how they’d all have to pull together and work as a team if they wanted to attain that greatness. Dr. Pronovost was in this last group, and has been summiting insurmountable peaks ever since.

You likely are familiar with Dr. Pronovost’s work on ICU line infections. He elaborated on how he accomplished a rate of zero line infections, first at his hospital and then throughout the entire state of Michigan. The key was an inspiring vision and, once again, removal of workarounds. After compiling a checklist of the five most crucial components of line placement and management, Hopkins personnel discovered they were only compliant with the checklist 30% of the time—mostly due to shortcuts caused by inefficient systems that placed supplies too far from the clinical-care setting. After removing those barriers, the compliance rate went to 70%. It was only after empowering the nursing staff to stop physicians from proceeding with line placement unless the checklist was followed that the team was able to achieve 100% compliance.

Today, patients in the Johns Hopkins cardiovascular unit have not suffered a line infection for 87 consecutive weeks. That’s a hill worth climbing.

Saving Lives and Canine Castaways

I learned that the SHM annual meeting is attracting the highest echelon of clinical speakers. Whether it was Dr. Pronovost speaking about line infections, Dr. Greg Fonarow discussing congestive heart failure, or Dr. John Bartlett presenting on Clostrium difficile infections, HM10 featured world-class speakers.

For example, Dr. Bartlett’s work has defined the C. diff field, and the opportunity to hear him was incredible. I learned from him that severe C. diff infections are on the rise and that recurrences are tougher than ever to treat. I also learned that there are mixed data on whether nurses can detect C. diff based on stool smell alone; that up to 10% of dogs carry C. diff (out of the bed, Hogan and Grady!); and that stool transplants are becoming a quality- and quantity-of-life-saving treatment for those with severe bouts of recurrent C. diff.

To quote Dr. Bartlett, “pathophysiologically, it’s a dream; aesthetically, it sucks.”

Homeward Bound

Finally, I learned that every year, SHM feels more and more like my second family, with the annual meeting its family reunion. I saw tons of friends, made dozens more, and look forward to next year in Dallas.

Mostly, however, I was reminded of the emotional tug of being away from home, the emotive power of a few e-mailed photos of your kids, and how great if feels to turn off your electronic devices and return your folding tray and seat back to the upright and locked position. TH

Dr. Glasheen is associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, where he serves as director of the Hospital Medicine Program and the Hospitalist Training Program, and as associate program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program.

Next Article:

   Comments ()