I’m often asked about the attributes associated with high-functioning practices, so I thought I’d offer a list of them in this column. I’ve written entire columns about some of them in prior issues of The Hospitalist, so I will provide only brief commentary about each of them here.
I think this list can serve as a valuable frame of reference for any hospitalist practice, though it is geared more toward nonacademic settings. It is based on my own career as a hospitalist, which spans more than 20 years, and 15 years’ work as a consultant with nearly 300 institutions around the country. While I think my experience has given me a valuable perspective, others might reasonably omit some attributes listed here or add others.
I believe the single most important measure of a practice is excellent outcomes for its patients. That said, all of the attributes I describe here have more to do with excellent operational, or business, performance. It is possible for a practice to have all of these attributes and still provide disappointing clinical quality for its patients, but that seems really unlikely to me. And even a practice that provides superior clinical care probably won’t be able to do so for long without high-functioning business operations.
I think each of these attributes might be a cause of a practice’s excellent performance, but it is possible that some are a result of it. They are listed in no particular order.
A culture of practice ownership. The most important attribute associated with a high-functioning practice is that the providers in the group maintain a mindset of practice ownership. Even if you are employees of a hospital or other organization, you should think of yourselves as owners of the practice’s performance. When problems arise, you shouldn’t simply assume it is up to the practice leader alone, or an administrator outside of the practice to solve it. Instead, each doctor should always be thinking about how to improve the practice and taking action to make it happen. For more, see “Foster Ownership Culture” in the August 2008 issue, or visit my website and take a quiz (http://nelsonflores.com/html/quiz.html) to assess your ownership culture.
An effective group leader. All groups need a leader who takes the role seriously and doesn’t just view the job description as making the work schedule and attending more meetings than the other hospitalists. (Unfortunately, my experience is that this is precisely what a lot of leaders think.) Of the many markers that effective leaders display, one that seems pretty reliable to me is whether the group has routinely scheduled meetings, with an agenda provided in advance and minutes circulated a few days later. I wrote about effective group leaders in a June 2008 column titled “Follow the Money.”
Autonomy in making decisions. Even when you are an employee of a larger entity, the practice should be structured so that hospitalists have as much autonomy in decision-making as possible. For example, you should always be able to adjust the group’s work schedule (e.g. when shifts start and stop). You also should have a lot of say about your staffing and workload. The latter typically requires that the group is connected to the financial consequences of its choices, which usually means a compensation system based, to a significant degree, on productivity.
While still common for hospitalists, when the largest salary component is fixed, it will always follow that someone outside the group (e.g. an administrator at the hospital) will end up deciding how hard you will have to work to justify the promised salary. And the hospitalists will almost always find fault with that person’s decision—a recipe for constant frustration that inhibits the development of an ownership culture, among other things.