“You OK if I take five days off starting tomorrow?”
“Sure. That’s fine.”
For years, we had no official name for our practice. This became a bigger issue when our group had grown to four doctors, so we defaulted to referring to the group by the first letter of the last name of each doctor, in order of tenure: The WNKL Group. A more formal name was to follow a few years later when the group was even larger, but I’ve taken delight in hearing that WNKL has persisted in some places and documents around the hospital years later, even though N, K, and L left the group long ago.
In the first few years, we never thought about developing clinical protocols or measuring our efficiency or clinical effectiveness. Chuck was confident that compared to the traditional primary-care model, we were providing higher-quality care at a lower cost. But I wasn’t so sure. After a few years, we began seeing hospital data showing that our cost per case tended to be lower, and what little data we could get regarding our quality of care suggested that it was about the same, and in some cases might be better.
A principal reason the practice has survived more than 25 years is that other than a small “tax” during their first 18 months (mainly to cover the cost of recruiting them), new doctors were regarded as equals in the business. Chuck and subsequent doctors never tried to gain an advantage over newer doctors by trying to claim a greater share of the practice’s revenue or decision-making authority.
Chuck is still in the same group he founded. In 2000, I was lured away by the chance to start a new group and live in a place that both my wife and I love. He and I have enjoyed watching our field grow up, and we take satisfaction in our roles in its evolution.
The hospitalist model of practice didn’t have a single inventor or place of origin, and anyone involved in starting a practice in the 1980s or before should be proud to have invented their practice when no blueprint existed. Creative thinking and openness to a new way of doing things were critical in developing the first hospitalist practices. They also are useful traits in trying to improve modern hospitalist practices or other segments of our healthcare system.
Like many new developments in medicine, the economic effects of our practice—lower hospital cost per case—became apparent, especially to Chuck, before data regarding quality surfaced. I wish we had gotten more serious early on about capturing whatever quality data might have been available—clearly less than what is available today—and those in new healthcare endeavors today should try to measure quality at the outset. Unlike the 1980s, the current marketplace will help ensure that happens.
There is one other really cool thing about Chuck’s email at the beginning of this column: those three exclamation points! Chuck is typically laconic and understated, and not given to such displays of emotion, but there are few things that generate more enthusiasm than a parent sharing news of a child’s success.
So, Ben, as you start med school next year, I wish you the best. You can be sure I’ll be asking for updates about your progress. The most important thing is that you find a life and career that engages you to do good work for others and provides satisfaction. And whatever you choose to do after med school, I know you’ll continue to make your parents proud.