Edward Ma, MD, wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. As a biology student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, he says friends “peer-pressured” him to choose a career in medicine. Once the decision was made and he began his training, he found out he was pretty good at the doctor thing.
“I realized that I like this,” he says. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to go for it.’”
Dr. Ma also realized he had a liking for business, and where better to study business than at Penn’s Wharton School of Business? He hasn’t completed an MBA, but he’s taken post-grad courses focused on healthcare management. And now he’s combining that knowledge with his experiences as a hospitalist and medical director to develop a consulting business.
“That sort of evolved because I sort of have a big mouth. When I see something wrong, or something that could be done better, I tend to vocalize it,” says Dr. Ma, medical director of hospitalist services at 168-bed Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, Pa. “The biggest opportunity is to really help a hospitalist group realize its potential and its value.”
Dr. Ma joined Team Hospitalist in April 2012. Although his side business is evolving via “word of mouth,” he still spends the majority of his time in the hospital directing a six-member HM group and caring for hospitalized patients.
Question: What do you like most about caring for patients?
Answer: I like the acuity of the care. The acuity of the illness is pretty high for our patients, and you can see very quickly the impact hospitalists can have. A lot of outpatient medicine is preventive care, so usually you don’t have an immediate problem that needs to be fixed, whereas in HM, the patients are acutely ill and there’s an ability to get these patients better—and see a change in their medical condition in a day or two. There’s more immediate gratification in terms of the effort that we put in caring for a patient.
Q: What do you like least?
A: The paperwork. At my hospital, a lot of it is computerized. But there are tons of checklists, tons of quality measures that need to be addressed, which is good. Still, it ends up bogging down our ability to take care of the patient. For example, a patient comes in for pneumonia and you have to make sure that some of their chronic issues (e.g. diabetes) are addressed. Have they had their hemoglobin A1C checked in the last 60 days? Does it really matter right now when we’re taking care of the patient’s pneumonia that we have to address this? Smoking cessation, yes, it’s very important, and we need to address this, but is it really necessary that we do this at this point when a patient is really ill? I think there’s a lot of these government regulations that they want us to take care of sometimes in the acute setting, which sometimes feels awkward or not necessarily time-appropriate.
Q: You say your training as an internist prepared you for a seamless transition to a hospitalist job, but you also think IM training is “doing a disservice to medicine.” How so?
A: Don’t get me wrong, I love hospital medicine. But I think what we really need is more primary-care doctors. This is not just my commentary on hospital medicine, but all subspecialties. I know specifically speaking that we need more outpatient internists, outpatient family physicians. If there are many internists, they’re not going to have as much need for cardiology or GI, or a lot of other subspecialties. There’s enough of a population of internists that would satisfy the need for internists and obviously the need for subspecialties.
Q: What’s the biggest change in HM you’ve witnessed since you started 10 years ago?
A: Our acceptance as a field by the medical community. Other physicians have now come to be very accepting of our role as the primary caretakers of their hospitalized patients.
Q: Do you consider yourself to have an entrepreneurial spirit or are you more of a solutions-oriented physician?
A: I have more of the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve been talking to a lot of hospitalists, and what I encourage them to do is completely counter to the current healthcare environment. I’ve been encouraging them to say, “Let’s get a bunch of us together and set up our own hospitalist practice and do it in a way that we can have a certain level of autonomy, but also do it in a way that we can collaborate with the hospital, work intimately with them, and get certain guarantees from them. And do it privately, so that we can maintain our autonomy.” I think that’s important because I see the difference between the private practices and the practices that are owned by a health system. People just care so much more when it’s their own practice.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as medical director?
A: Getting everyone to work as a team. Everyone has a different schedule, differing values, and priorities. It’s very important that we work as a team because when one person does something, it impacts what somebody else does.
Q: What’s the most important thing to know when starting an HM group or fixing a broken group?
A: For fixing a group, you have to look at the values of the group of doctors. What are the values? What are the objectives? What are the professional goals? What I’ve encountered in HM is a lot of people are just coming in to get a paycheck. They come in, they do their job, and they like to take care of patients. Don’t get me wrong about that, but they like the freedom and the high competition that’s provided by hospital medicine. Oftentimes they come in, they do their jobs very well, they take care of their patients, and then they’re out the door. They don’t really have an interest in building up that practice or building up something for the hospital. We as doctors are all part of a medical community, we’re part of a medical staff, and it’s very important for us to get involved.
Q: Last year, you became president of SHM’s Philadelphia Tri-State Region chapter. What are your goals?
A: I’ve always been involved with the chapter, but I saw it as a good opportunity to network and talk with more hospitalists. I wanted to get their viewpoints on things and bounce ideas. I’m a very vocal person, so when I hear a good idea, I like to spread it amongst other people. And if I see something that someone said was bad and I hear it from enough people, I like to bring it up and discuss with everybody.
Q: What’s the best part of being an SHM member?
A: Getting to interact with a lot of my colleagues. To see what struggles they’re going through, to see that their struggles are very similar to the struggles that my group is going through, that we’re all in the same boat, and that we need to collaborate a little more to make things work. Instead of each practice trying to reinvent the wheel, we can try to work together and build off each other.
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.