Patrick Conway, MD, MSc, SFHM, a pediatric hospitalist and director of hospital medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has been appointed chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Dr. Conway’s key responsibilities will be administering federal healthcare quality initiatives and setting the government’s quality agenda in an era of massive changes resulting from the Patient Protection and Accountable Care Act of 2010 (ACA).
Dr. Conway, who previously served as CMO of the Policy Division of the Office of Secretary of Health and Human Services and was a 2007-2008 White House fellow assigned to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), is a leader in safety, quality, and outcomes initiatives at Cincinnati Children’s, and is the immediate past chair of SHM’s Public Policy Committee. He also served on the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. In his new job, which he started May 9, he is directing CMS’ Office of Clinical Standards and Quality, which coordinates development and implementation of a CMS-wide approach to promoting health quality.
“Patrick Conway’s appointment represents a major milestone for hospitalists and patients alike,” says Larry Wellikson, MD, SFHM, CEO of SHM. “As hospitalists approach the 15th anniversary of the specialty, it is fitting that one of our own takes on the considerable responsibility of caring for millions of Americans through Medicare and Medicaid. Dr. Conway and thousands of other hospitalists have been on the front lines of systematically improving patient care for more than a decade; his sound judgment and compassion as a clinician are now a major national asset.”
Dr. Conway maintains his associate professorship at the University of Cincinnati and will work some weekends seeing patients at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “I love patient care, so I don’t want to stop doing that. Plus, it helps me connect to the front lines of providing medical care,” he says.
“Dr. Conway’s passion for improving healthcare delivery systems, his day-to-day experience as a hospitalist physician, and his accomplishments in quality-improvement research, such as implementing evidence-based healthcare for all children, provide a strong background for his critical role at CMS as chief medical officer,” says Arnold W. Strauss, MD, chair of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, where many of the pediatric physicians at Children’s Hospital hold academic appointments. “Dr. Conway and our colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s have demonstrated that improving patient outcomes at lower cost—the goal of healthcare reform—is feasible.”
Dr. Conway’s role at CMS will include major components of surveys, certification, and accreditation issues for hospitals and other Medicare providers; healthcare information technology; and hospital value-based purchasing initiatives (see “Value-Based Purchasing Raises the Stakes,” The Hospitalist, May 2011, p. 1).
But his initial priorities will focus on quality-measures development, illustrated by CMS’ Hospital Compare website (www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov), and quality improvement. Another major issue involves care transitions and readmissions, “which I try to frame positively—how can we have the most effective care transitions possible?” he says. “SHM and its publications have done a good job of stressing how hospitals and hospitalists can add value.”
Emphasizing his own experience directing an HM department for a health system that admits 7,000 pediatric patients per year, Dr. Conway says other hospitalists can take a similar lead in embracing quality measurement in their hospitals. “I may be working on quality measures for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, but you already know what will be measured in 2012. Don’t wait until September 2012 to get started,” he explains. “Hospitalists can help their institution pose the question: ‘What do we want to get better at in the next year?’ Then you test. Understand your current performance, set a goal, compare benchmarks with other hospitals, and keep working on improvement.”
Over the course of a year, he adds, quality will improve, and then your HM group will have “something to talk about with hospital administrators.”
Married with two children, says his experience at both the macro and micro levels of healthcare will benefit the overall system. “I actually think if we realign incentives, the system can perform better,” he says. “So I see it as an opportunity to perform a public service. But we also need front-line clinicians, including hospitalists, working to improve our healthcare system. … We need frontline providers that are measuring the quality of their care and improving it.” TH
Larry Beresford is a freelance writer based in California.