Hospitalists Can Get Ahead Through Quality and Patient Safety Initiatives


Are you a hospitalist who, on daily rounds, often thinks, “There’s got to be a better way to do this”? You might be just the type of person who can carve a niche for yourself in hospital quality and patient safety—and advance your career in the process.

Successful navigation of the quality-improvement (QI) and patient-safety domains, according to three veteran hospitalists, requires an initial passion and an incremental approach. Now is an especially good time, they agree, for young hospitalists to engage in these types of initiatives.

How You Can Start Today

Get tools you can use immediately via SHM’s quality-improvement resource rooms: www.hospitalmedicine.org/qi.

Ready to sharpen your hospital leadership skills? SHM’s Leadership Academy is offering all three courses in October: www.hospitalmedicine.org/leadership.

Don’t “reinvent the wheel”; hospitalists just like you are available to answer questions on quality and patient safety in the HMX quality improvement group at www.hmxchange.org.

Why Do It?

In her capacity as president of the Mid-Atlantic Business Unit for Brentwood, Tenn.-based CogentHMG, Julia Wright, MD, SFHM, FACP, often encourages young recruits to consider participation in QI and patient-safety initiatives. She admits that the transition from residency to a busy HM practice, with its higher patient volumes and a faster pace, can be daunting at first. Still, she tries to cultivate interest in initiatives and establish a realistic timeframe for involvement.

There are many reasons to consider this as a career step. Dr. Wright says that quality and patient safety dovetail with hospitalists’ initial reasons for choosing medicine: to improve patients’ lives.

Janet Nagamine, RN, MD, SFHM, former patient safety officer and assistant chief of quality at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif., describes the fit this way: “I might be a good doctor, but as a hospitalist, I rely on many others within the system to deliver, so my patients can’t get good care until the entire system is running well,” she says. “There are all kinds of opportunities to fix our [hospital] system, and I really believe that hospitalists cannot separate themselves from that engagement.”

Elizabeth Gundersen, MD, FHM, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agrees that it’s a natural step to think about the ways to make a difference on a larger level. At her former institution, the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School in Worcester, she parlayed her interest in QI to work her way up from ground-level hospitalist to associate chief of her division and quality officer for the hospital. “Physicians get a lot of satisfaction from helping individual patients,” she says. “One thing I really liked about getting involved with quality improvement was being able to make a difference for patients on a systems level.”

An Incremental Path

The path to her current position began with a very specific issue for Dr. Nagamine, an SHM board member who also serves as a Project BOOST co-investigator. “Although I have been doing patient safety since before they had a name for it, I didn’t start out saying that I wanted a career in quality and safety,” she says. “I was trying to take better care of my patients with diabetes, but controlling their glucose was extremely challenging because all the related variables—timing and amount of their insulin dosage, when and how much they had eaten—were charted in different places. This made it hard to adjust their insulin appropriately.”

It quickly became clear to Dr. Nagamine that the solution had to be systemic. She realized that something as basic as taking care of her patients with diabetes required multiple departments (i.e. dietary, nursing, and pharmacy) to furnish information in an integrated manner. So she joined the diabetes committee and went to work on the issue. She helped devise a flow chart that could be used by all relevant departments. A further evolution on the path emanated from one of her patients receiving the wrong medication. She joined the medication safety committee, became chair, “and the next thing you know, I’m in charge of patient safety, and an assistant chief of quality.”

Training Is Necessary

QI and patient-safety methodologies have become sophisticated disciplines in the past two decades, Dr. Wright says. Access to training in QI basics now is readily available to early-career hospitalists. For example, CogentHMG offers program support for QI so that anyone interested “doesn’t have to start from scratch anymore; we can help show them the way and support them in doing it.”

This month, HM13 (www.hospital medicine2013.org)—just outside Washington, D.C.—will offer multiple sessions on quality, as well as the “Initiating Quality Improvement Projects with Built-In Sustainment” workshop, led by Center for Comprehensive Access and Delivery Research and Evaluation (CADRE) core investigator Peter Kaboli, MD, MS, who will address sustainability.

Beyond methodological tools, success in quality and patient safety requires the ability to motivate people, often across multiple disciplines, Dr. Nagamine says. “If you want things to work better, you must invite the right people to the table. For example, we often forget to include key nonclinical stakeholders,” she adds.

When working with hospitals across the country to implement rapid-response tTeams, Dr. Nagamine often reminds them to invite the operators, or “key people,” in the process.

“If you put patient safety at the core of your initiative and create the context for that, most people will agree that it’s the right thing to do and will get on board, even if it’s an extra step for them,” she says. “Know your audience, listen to their perspective, and learn what matters to them. And to most people, it matters that they give good patient care.”

Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer in California.

Branch Out: QI and Patient-Safety Initiatives

Pick a passion. It’s best to choose an issue that’s important to you. “It has to be a

passion because much of the time it’s an uphill battle,” says Dr. Gundersen. She started with the issue of reducing readmissions, and with two colleagues pitched the idea of involving the UMass HM group in SHM’s Project BOOST. After that, she set out to become an expert on reducing readmissions, applying what she had learned to other successful initiatives.

Learn the lingo. Dr. Wright advises learning some of the most basic principles, such as Shewhart’s PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) or Deming’s adaptation PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycles; the quality tripod; and accessing resources made available from SHM. A member of SHM’s Hospital Quality and Patient Safety Committee, Dr. Wright says a subcommittee for leadership engagement has been created and furnishes tools and training for advancing quality initiatives. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (www.ihi.org) also offers a wealth of measures, speaker series, and white papers on improvement in health care.

It’s important to put in time at the start of a project to demonstrate your value, but if you’re constantly staying up late working on a project, consider pitching a compensated role to your boss.

Start small. You can test your ability to work with interdisciplinary departments, often a prerequisite of many quality initiatives, by first joining a committee, Dr. Nagamine advises. “See how effective or persuasive you are in pitching an idea and seeing it through with other departments,” she says.

Brace for a marathon. “Most people,” Dr. Gundersen says, “do not hand you 100% of their cooperation and a budget you can work with.” It takes time to get buy-in, especially if you’re doing interdisciplinary initiatives. If possible, break your projects into achievable units. “Start with some quick wins. Small payoffs here and there can re-energize your team and eventually yield a larger payoff,” she says.

Limit sweat equity. It’s important to put in time at the start of a project to demonstrate your value, but if you’re constantly staying up late working on a project, consider pitching a compensated role to your boss. “Being a good citizen and volunteering for committees is one thing,” Dr. Nagamine cautions, “but taking on leadership roles in too many projects, without dedicated time, is not sustainable and can jeopardize the success of your projects.”

—Gretchen Henkel

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