I wear a suit every day to work. I count the time between shifts in months, not days. Rather than looking for subtle diagnostic clues hidden in clinical information, I find myself up to my elbows in performance and financial data. Instead of meetings complicated by challenging family dynamics, I spend my time calming the waters between clinical departments that each feel slighted.
And yet, when people ask me what I do, I do not say I am a health system CEO. Rather, I am a hospitalist. I say it, not out of habit, but with pride and clear intention. Almost 20 years ago, I had to explain to my parents what a hospitalist was as I made the transition from primary care doctor to hospitalist. I told them that hospitalists take care of sick people who are in the hospital, but also are charged with making the hospital a better place to take care of people. I hope that in some small way, in every role I have had over the past 20 years as a hospitalist, I have been able to do that.
While the small changes we can all make every day are important, massive changes to health care, hospitals, and providers are coming. The forces driving these changes are manifold, complex, and powerful. Individual hospitalists, hospital groups, and hospitals will be challenged to keep up with responding to these changes. I hope, though, that our field, hospital medicine, will not be sitting there, waiting for the changes to come, but will instead be one of the forces for change.
I also believe that hospital medicine and health care delivery systems should drive the change in a coordinated and collaborative partnership. A partnership not built on self-advocacy but one in which we remember why we exist – to take care of people. A force for change that preserves the essential, evolves what needs improvement, and revolutionizes the archaic.
Partnerships between hospitalist groups and health care administration will always face the day-to-day challenges of balancing the need for resources with the ability to provide them, agreeing on how to measure and assess quality, and aligning rewards with priorities. However, by working together in venues that allow us to think beyond the day-to-day issues, we in hospital medicine will be leaders in the change that is coming. I believe that today, the Society of Hospital Medicine must be one of those venues. Through its committees, meetings, advocacy, publications, and most importantly, members, SHM will continue to shape the future of care delivery in this country and beyond.
SHM has been my professional home for almost 20 years, helping me think about how to make the hospital a better place to take care of people. Recent examples of SHM and its members partnering in this area include advocacy work to improve alternative payment models, such as Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), as well as educational efforts for its members on how to navigate the current rules around MACRA.
For many years, SHM has been the leader in professional organizations for leading the way on quality improvement. Through the Center for Quality Improvement, SHM not only offers robust educational tools to better enable members to lead efforts at their home institutions but also has led multi-institutional efforts to reduce harm that have been recognized nationally for their impact.
As we move further down the path from volume to value toward population health, the SHM Board will be sure that the society continues to be a leader for both its members and the health system at large as we face these changes. We have the opportunity in front of us to collectively embrace and create the changes coming toward us with that shared purpose of making wherever it is that we care for people better places to provide that care. How could one not be proud to say, with intent, “I am a hospitalist,” regardless of what it is that brings each of us to SHM.
Dr. Whelan is CEO of Banner–University Medical Center Tucson (Ariz.) and a member of the SHM Board of Directors.