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Physician leadership marries clinical, management expertise

By Jennifer Bresnick

The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) doesn’t think it’s any surprise that the top five hospitals in the nation have physician leaders at the helm, nor that the number of physician executives is growing rapidly as healthcare organizations seek ways to break down administrative silos to increase efficiency and raise the quality of patient care.  Physician leaders have all the skills required to tackle the intricacies and challenges of the Affordable Care Act, says ACPE President and CEO Peter Angood, MD, FRCS(C), FACS, FCCM, including a finely honed sense of how clinicians actually do their jobs every day.  This unique portfolio of talents will lead healthcare organizations through the trials of reform if they are able to leverage the expertise of their clinical leaders.

“The healthcare reform process has been moving along even separate from the ACA, but the ACA has certainly highlighted that there needs to be increasing attention to the full spectrum of care,” Angood said to EHRintelligence.  “As a result, a lot of health care systems are looking towards physician leadership to help provide not only the clinical direction for that continuum of care, but also to provide the management and executive leadership.”

“And the reason for that is because physicians who are well-respected clinically, and have also received some good education and experience with leadership and management, have a double-edged advantage,” he continued.  “They know and understand clinical care, and they know and understand the management or administrative side of care, and so they provide significant added value in creating better systems, better processes, more efficiencies overall.”

As healthcare organizations begin to realize that the administrative and clinical branches of their businesses must work together in order to achieve strategic goals, physician leaders are becoming a bridge between two formally distinct areas of operations.  While this may ultimately produce benefits, physician executives have the unenviable job of soothing ruffled clinical feathers when administrators pin financial losses or quality problems on long established workflow habits or individual deficiencies.

“I think all disciplines in healthcare are paying more attention to professionalism overall,” Angood said, noting that physicians may be more likely to take constructive criticism from fellow clinicians who understand the challenges and difficult decisions they have to face on a daily basis.

“One of the elements that we recognize as a main emotional driver of physicians is the desire to have respect from their peers and their colleagues. So the door is more open for there to be peer-to-peer interactions and peer-to-peer suggestions on how to improve, how to get better, or what could have been done to prevent a problem when a physician encounters a tough spot.  So that degree of openness and that aspiration to have higher levels of professionalism and respect amongst your peers is – it’s actually a welcome trend, and it’s nice to see that happening.”

Engaging with these quality improvement programs can help physicians identify if executive leadership is the right path for them, Angood added.  “Physicians are naturally leaders.  They’re highly intelligent, highly motivated, want to create change, and they really are driven to improvements overall,” he said.  “However, the formal education paths don’t provide opportunity for physicians to acquire many leadership and management skills, so physicians really need to stop and recognize that just because you have ‘MD’ behind your name does not mean you’re automatically qualified to be a leader.”

“So if someone is beginning to have an inkling that they’re leaning towards that, they should seek some input from their peers or their friends and say, ‘Hey, look.  You think this is realistic for me?’  And then the second step would be to get some type of formalized assessment tools, whether it’s psychometric tools or leadership assessment tools, and then get more objective evidence as to whether or not they even have the aptitudes for this,” he continued.

“And then the third step would be to obtain some formal education, get the skills, gain some experience, and then seek out the types of opportunities where they can progressively apply that new set of skills.  They should be doing it with a methodology that allows them to get the feedback and grow and improve.  And those physicians that follow those kinds of steps tend to succeed better than others who just kind of jump into it.”

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