In my previous column, we considered a comprehensive and practical definition of accountability advanced by Connors, Smith, and Hickman in their well-written book “The Oz Principle.”1 In order to apply these concepts successfully to HM practice, it is useful to conceive of accountability as a process that should be approached in a step-wise manner. In this month’s column, we will explore the “process of accountability” by considering how “The Oz Principle” can further assist hospitalists in accomplishing what is expected of them as agents of high-quality, cost-effective healthcare delivery.
Recall that Connors and colleagues define accountability as “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances, and demonstrate ownership necessary for achieving results.” Such a definition empowers us to anticipate the future by proactively avoiding problems versus retrospectively explaining why problems occurred. To apply this definition in our daily lives, we must contemplate how to proactively avoid problems. This can be accomplished by following a process described as the four-step approach: “see it, own it, solve it, and do it.”
Step No. 1 on the road to accountability requires that hospitalists be aware of issues in their external environments that affect their practice, and is referred to by Connors et al as “seeing it.” As it concerns healthcare reform, Step 1 requires that hospitalists educate themselves about such keystone reform initiatives as value-based purchasing and the public reporting of performance. Initiatives such as these are centerpieces of care delivery reform, and will occur irrespective of the fate of such legislation as the Affordable Care Act. Clinicians thus must understand the features of these initiatives, and appreciate how policies and programs emanating from them will necessitate changes in medical practice.
There are innumerable resources available to assist with understanding these concepts. If you have yet to do so, I encourage you to explore the hospital value-based purchasing (HVBP) toolkit on SHM’s website (www.hospitalmedicine.org/hvbp). Additionally, in order to appreciate the power of public performance reporting, please review the Hospital Compare and Physician Compare pages on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website. Knowledge is power, and in this situation it is essential to ensure your continued professional success. “The Oz Principle” admonishes that “if changes are inevitable, then those who resist them will inevitably fail.” Please ensure that failure is not an option by seeking first to understand how healthcare reform will impact your practice.
Step No. 2 on the road to accountability requires that hospitalists sincerely accept healthcare challenges as theirs to personally embrace. Connors et al define this step as “owning it.” In order to truly own our country’s problem of substandard healthcare delivery, “The Oz Principle” suggests that the profession of medicine must “accept ownership of past and present behaviors that keep it mired in current circumstances, (as this is the only way it can) hope to improve its future situation.”
This is challenging for hospitalists, as most HM practitioners are only a few years removed from completion of clinical training. It is thus tempting for young hospitalists to refuse ownership of healthcare system problems as ones that they personally created. Although this position is understandable, we should not accept it. It might be true that a single physician’s practice contributed little to our current overall healthcare challenges; however, we are all members of the same profession, and a collective identity when it comes to ownership of healthcare system problems is essential to our ability to eventually solve these problems. Complaining that our predecessors are responsible for our present maladies will stifle improvement efforts by creating a culture of victimization. According to “The Oz Principle,” “owning our circumstances gives us the strength to overcome the powerlessness that comes from being a victim, and allows us to move forward and achieve more satisfying results.”
Step No. 3 mandates that hospitalists capitalize on reform opportunities by designing process-improvement strategies through critical analysis and innovative thinking. Connors and colleagues define this step as “solving it.” Contributing to “solving it” is a fundamental job responsibility of every hospitalist, and not the exclusive province of hospitalist leaders. HM clinicians focusing primarily on bedside care must actively participate in the process of solving the problems that currently plague our healthcare system.
To do so should not necessitate an overly burdensome time commitment. It is often sufficient to simply attend and actively participate in your team and hospital staff meetings. At other times, it might be necessary for you to volunteer an hour or so once a month in service to a hospital committee or a team activity. Contributing your observations and thoughts in these forums is essential to creating effective solutions. Although you might not be the ultimate decision-maker, you have an obligation to build a broad collective understanding of the issues through the voicing of your opinions.
According to “The Oz Principle,” “solving it is not an extra activity, but part of the job.” Each of us has a professional obligation to identify better methods to deliver high-value healthcare. Doing so necessitates that we each identify improvement opportunities by critically evaluating the success of our current situations. We must then, at a minimum, share our thoughts with the decision-makers responsible for enacting improvement strategies.
The fourth and final step on the road to accountability requires that hospitalists successfully implement solutions and ensure that the desired results are achieved. Connors and colleagues define this step as “doing it.” Successfully “doing it” to enhance healthcare quality and efficiency necessitates hard work, because rarely is it sufficient to simply implement a healthcare improvement project. In order to achieve true results, projects must be actively managed after initial deployment, tweaked to become better, then redeployed and reanalyzed to ensure effectiveness.
In healthcare, it is tempting to become satisfied with simply deploying processes, as much of the healthcare reform work done to date has focused on payment for process improvements. This, however, will change in the near future. For example, Medicare’s hospital value-based purchasing program (see “Value-Based Purchasing Raises the Stakes,” January 2012, p. 1) will incorporate outcome measures as soon as 2014. We must, therefore, get into the habit of aggressively managing the processes that we operate through diligent data collection and subsequent decision-making that is informed by actionable information.
Holding ourselves accountable for enacting healthcare reform initiatives to improve the care of our patients will be difficult. The task is made easier by employing a process to guide our efforts. “The Oz Principle” teaches us a succinct, four-step approach. Applying this approach to changes mandated by healthcare reform will make it easier for hospitalists to transcend their current dysfunctional situations and achieve demonstrable healthcare system improvements for the betterment of patient care.
Dr. Frost is president of SHM.