Some of the best companies in America started in a garage or a basement with an individual who had a great idea and the ability to grow it into a progressively larger business.
“It takes a leader with different capabilities to take a company to the next level,” says Martin Buser, MPH, FACHE, a partner with Hospitalist Management Resources LLC in San Diego, which has helped more than 350 HM programs nationwide in the past 15 years. “It’s an attitude of never stop learning, an ability to look at issues from 30,000 feet instead of ground zero so you can see the whole picture.”
Similarly, the most important predictor of an HM program’s success is its director, Buser says. If directors know how to communicate, innovate, facilitate, problem-solve, and inspire, they are much more likely to run a high-performing hospitalist program, says David Lee, MD, MBA, FACP, FHM, vice chairman of the Hospital Medicine Department at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans.
If group directors lack the skills and fail to adapt to change, the program’s outlook is far from certain. “We unfortunately get involved with these programs,” Buser says. “It’s painful to see.” Bad behavior is nothing new to the hospital setting, and HM is not immune to poor management. The following are common examples of bad behaviors and how groups can avoid the mishaps.
Scenario No. 1 : Great Clinician, Nice Person, Weak Advocate
Show that you understand the hospital’s issues. Certain things you want to compromise on, but other things you have to say, “If we do that, the ramifications are such that it’s just not going to work.”
—Martin Buser, MPH, FACHE, partner, Hospitalist Management Resources LLC, San Diego
The case: Earlier this year, medical center administrators asked the hospitalist program to do more with less, explaining the hospital was having a bad financial year. Administration approached the HM director, an exceptional, gregarious clinician who was named to the position years ago to help the program gain acceptance. The director agreed to indefinitely postpone two much-needed hirings, deciding it was better to share in the sacrifice than protest the cuts to the program’s budget. Hospitalists have since been working more shifts without a pay increase, and burnout symptoms have emerged with no signs of a thaw in the hiring freeze.
Expert advice: Buser says the “weak advocate” is a common issue among hospitalist groups, many of which he says are “going to hell” when he gets a rescue call. When a hospital is facing financial hardship, it is imperative that the HM director stand up for the program by explaining in detail the ramifications of each level of budget cuts. That’s because administrators might not realize the long-term damage that would result from such actions, he says. Being a strong, savvy advocate is even more important now since the financial future of many hospitals is ominous.
“With all of our hospitalist clients, we ask the CFO what is happening in the future…and the numbers are phenomenal,” says Buser. “They are seeing reductions of $10 million to $30 million off their bottom line.”
Administrators’ knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs. But there is another option: Grow the hospital out of its financial difficulties. It is up to the HM director to show administrators how the HM group has strategically gained them market share and how it will continue to do so. Good directors are in near constant contact with administrators, demonstrating the value their hospitalist program brings to the hospital, Buser says.
“You’re having regular meetings with the administrator, you’re producing the dashboard on a regular basis, you’re giving him trends that are going on,” he explains. “Show that you understand the hospital’s issues. Certain things you want to compromise on, but other things you have to say, ‘If we do that, the ramifications are such that it’s just not going to work.’”