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.