Practice management skills more relevant than ever


– Babatunde Akinsete, MD, took a new job about 18 months ago as a lead hospitalist within Adventist Health System of Florida. The role has the expected leadership responsibilities, but those folks he’s now partly supervising are the same ones who used to be his peers.

The same people he spent time “in the trenches” with, complaining about the problems they saw – issues that are now partly his job to help fix.

“It’s tough,” Dr. Akinsete said at the annual meeting of the Society of Hospital Medicine. “How do you motivate people?”

Welcome to managing a practice, circa 2017. The day-to-day doings of an HM group – recruiting, retention, compensation, scheduling and more – are the backbone of the specialty. And SHM’s annual meeting makes the topics a principal point, from a dedicated precourse to dozens of presentations to networking opportunities introducing experienced leaders to nascent ones.

The subject is more relevant than ever these days as the maturing specialty now has three generations of hospitalists practicing side by side, including those who founded the society and laid the groundwork for the specialty some 20 years ago and those who will now infuse it with new blood for the next 20 years, said Jerome Siy, MD, SFHM, an HM17 faculty member and chair of SHM’s Practice Management Committee.

“We’re heading into a cycle of a lot of change,” he said. “Being able to manage change is going to be pretty key.”

The first step in building or bettering a “healthy practice” is building a “culture of ownership,” Dr. Siy said.

“You must have the right culture first if you’re going to tackle any of these issues, whether it’s things like schedules to finances to negotiations,” he added. “Second is this openness and innovation to think outside the box and to allow yourself to hear things that might not work for you. Be open to it because whether you hear something that doesn’t work or not, it may inspire you to figure out … what is the key element you were missing before.”

That’s what Liza Rodriguez Jimenez, MD, is taking away from the meeting. She is moving into a codirector position for her medical group at St. Luke’s in Boise, Idaho. A crash course in alternative-payment models, full-time equivalents (FTEs), relative value units (RVUs) and scheduling was an eye-opener for her.

But to Dr. Siy’s point, it wasn’t the specific examples of how other people do what they do that intrigued Dr. Rodriguez Jimenez. It was more so that people just did it differently.

“It’s just helpful to know that there are other choices,” Dr. Rodriguez Jimenez said. “In other words, why do we do 7 on, 7 off? I don’t know. We just do. If you don’t know that you don’t know, then how do you know to change it? You get exposed to so much stuff here now that you can theoretically go back and say, ‘why do we do 7 on, 7 off? … And then let the group say we want 5 on, 10 off, 4 on, 3 off. Whatever people decide.”

Nasim Afsar, MD, SFHM, chief quality officer of the department of medicine at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, said that idea of just framing the question differently is a big deal, and a leadership skill in and of itself. For example, say a hospital medicine group’s leaders are trying to discuss whether the practice should continue its comanagement focus.

“If you frame a decision as, ‘We are going to lose this comanagement,’ there’s just something, like a gut feeling, you don’t want to lose stuff,” she said. “As opposed to, if you say, ‘Gosh, think about the gains. That we will have all this free time that we now have where we can develop other aspects of our hospital medicine group.’ So when you frame the same exact thing in terms of loss, it becomes so much more difficult for us to actually let go of that.”

Leadership is more than just framing, of course. Dr. Afsar and former SHM president Eric Howell, MD, MHM, said that leadership traits include using standardized processes to make decisions, as well as getting group members involved in those decisions when necessary and using feedback and motivation properly.

But, at day’s end, practice management is managing the needs of your practice.

For Abdul-Hady Kheder, MD, of Hamilton Hospitalists LLC in Central New Jersey, the meeting opened his eyes to techniques he could use to deal with lower reimbursement figures and less patients.

“What can help my situation will be increasing the volume of the practice,” he said. “Right now, we admit 30%-40% of the patients admitted into the hospital. National average is 60%-90% of total hospital admissions. I think that most probably will balance my financial dilemma.”

For Rodney Hollis, practice administrator for Eskenazi Health of Indianapolis, the meeting was a way to glean tips on improving his practice. One nugget he’s excited about: pairing an experienced hospitalist with a new hire for a year. As a nonclinical administrator, Hollis said he views his role as helping clinicians work on the things they are best at, while he handle the rest.

“The more clinical time that the clinical directors can spend, that’s more advantageous to the group,” Hollis said. “Allowing the nonclinical activities to be done by an administrator helps. We want more responsibility and if there’s something that our clinical is doing that I can do, why not have me do it?”

For Dr. Rodriguez Jimenez, open-ended questions like that one are among the most “insightful” takeaways from the meeting.

“There is no right or wrong way, so maybe we’ve been doing it this way ‘just because,’ ” she said. “Now we need to look at it and say, ‘Can we do it a different way? Can we adapt it? Can we change it?’”

She’s starting to sound like a practice manager already.

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