Like many physicians, Larry Holder, MD, FACP, FHM, entered the medical profession with the desire to make a difference. After completing a fellowship in hematology and oncology in 1988, he joined Cancer Care Specialists of Central Illinois, a community oncology practice based in Decatur, and anticipated a lengthy career in which he would contribute to significant breakthroughs in cancer treatment.
After 12 years, however, he changed direction.
“I had become a bit disillusioned and realized we weren’t making big impacts, especially on the more common cancers,” he says. “I also got very attached to my patients, and in oncology, that’s not always a good thing. It became very trying emotionally.”
Dr. Holder spent the next five years practicing internal medicine at Community Health Improvement Center in Decatur. In 2005, he joined the hospitalist program at Decatur Memorial Hospital. Last year, he became medical director of hospitalist services, chief medical informatics officer (CMIO), and medical director of information systems.
Although he has found a new niche, his philosophy remains the same.
“Everything I do comes down to the fact I still love taking care of patients,” says Dr. Holder, one of six new members of Team Hospitalist. “That’s why I became a doctor. It’s very rewarding, and I never want to give that up.”
Question: You left oncology partly because you became attached to your patients. Does that approach help you as a hospitalist?
Answer: Definitely. I try to teach younger hospitalists the value of developing a rapport with patients. I enjoy building that emotional or intellectual attachment. I’m a big believer in the human aspect of what we do, and it’s one of the aspects of my job I love the most.
Q: Did you join Decatur Memorial with aspirations of leading its hospitalist program?
A: No. My plan was to focus on giving good patient care, get involved on the quality side, and become the CMIO for the hospital. When the medical director role opened up, it seemed to be sitting there waiting to be filled. I structured it so I could continue to see patients and split my administrative time between being the medical director of the hospitalists and being the CMIO.
Q: Why is it so important for you to still see patients?
A: As a physician, I still find it extremely rewarding. As medical director, I need to be in the trenches to know what the hospitalists are going through and what problems they are having. As CMIO, it’s very important that I use the system I’m in charge of trying to optimize.
Q: What advice would you give to a physician who is about to become leader of a program?
A: You need to anticipate growth. I was caught off guard by how fast our program continued to grow, and how quickly we reached the point where we needed more hospitalists. In retrospect, I should have immediately started looking to recruit. I also was not prepared for the financial aspect. If you don’t have a financial background, I would very quickly get training in that area.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as medical director?
A: Getting others in the hospital to accept change, even when all indications are it’s for the better.
Q: Have you identified a strategy that helps make that process easier?
A: The first step is to establish a sense of urgency. Then I try to get people who will be involved in the process or people who don’t oppose change to help set up a vision for the project and communicate that vision. Once you get empowerment to do the project, go for a short, early win that shows the concept is viable and can make it.
Q: How did you develop your interest in information systems?
A: I’ve always been interested in computers and how we can use computerization and informatic systems to improve patient care. When I became a hospitalist, I got much more involved. Decatur Memorial implemented computer physician order entry (CPOE). I became the physician champion for that, and my interest grew from there. I’m fortunate our administration is very good at pushing to improve our information systems.
Q: Does that interest fit with your approach toward medicine?
A: Absolutely. I’m a big believer in evidenced-based medicine. I think computer systems complement that very well.
Q: You were a finalist for McKesson’s Distinguished Achieve-ment Award and received an award this year from the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems. What were those honors for?
A: We did a complete cultural change with nurses and physicians in terms of how they deal with diabetes. As part of that project, I developed a CPOE order set that automatically calculated the basal, nutritional, and correctional insulin dosage for the physician based on the patient’s weight and height. It made the right thing to do the easy thing to do. The concept involved the use of evidence-based medicine, project improvement with the Six Sigma process, and the high-level use of informatics.
Q: Has that improved patient care?
A: I was able to demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in glucose control without a change in hypoglycemia, so I did demonstrate an improved clinical outcome.
Q: What’s next for you professionally?
A: I have no intention of changing jobs, but I will continue to be very involved in quality projects. The biggest long-term project is developing more patient- and family-centered care at our hospital. I went to a national conference in February, and a big component was patient-centered care. I was very intrigued by it and brought the vision back to our hospital.
Q: Where does the effort stand?
A: I thought our hospitalist group would be a good group to do an initial component of the project. It went over really well, and people started asking me to present it to others. It took on a life of its own, and I wound up on a bit of a lecture series. It has since become an official Six Sigma project. We got the charter for it and it’s going in the hospital’s strategic plan, which I’m very pleased about.
Q: You earned FHM designation earlier this year. What does that mean to you?
A: It means a great deal. It’s tremendous recognition for the work I’ve done, the quality improvement projects I’ve been involved with, and the leadership roles I’ve taken on. At the same time, when you are able to show a national society views your work as important, I think it gives me even more credibility with the administration and the support staff.
Mark Leiser is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.