Shaping the future of hospital medicine

Dr. Therese Franco leads SHM’s Pacific Northwest chapter


Therese Franco, MD, SFHM, a hospitalist at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, is the current president of SHM’s Pacific Northwest chapter.
The Hospitalist recently sat down with her to learn about her background and discuss some of the initiatives that the Pacific Northwest chapter has been working on.

Dr. Therese Franco

Can you tell us about your education and training on the way to becoming a hospitalist?
My undergraduate degree is in engineering from Michigan State University. I then went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and did one degree at the School of Public Health in environmental and industrial health, and another degree in the College of Engineering in industrial and operations engineering. In my work with the safety department at an automotive company, I found I was spending a lot of time looking at data, and not talking to people. I got into a conversation with one of the occupational medicine physicians there, and he said, “You ought to try this.” I spoke with a good friend, who was a medical student, and she agreed.
So then I went to medical school thinking that I would practice occupational medicine. I went to medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit and did a couple of rotations in occupational medicine. I wasn’t sure that was the right fit, so I then went off to residency in internal medicine at the University of Connecticut and really enjoyed my wards experience. I liked the pace, I liked the variety, and just really liked all of hospital medicine. So that’s what I decided to do.

What are your areas of research interest?
This year I’m doing a research fellowship through the Center for Healthcare Improvement Science, at Virginia Mason. Through SHM’s mentored implementation program, I have done a lot of work on diabetes and glycemic control but never really published much of it. I think it is so important to share what you learn, so I’m working on publishing some of our results from the diabetes work.
Another area of interest is advanced-practice providers in hospital medicine, which I think is very important, given all the issues that health care is facing. I think that medicine has gotten more complex and that we’re going to have to look at working in a collaborative, inter-professional, multidisciplinary way. I think that advanced practice can really improve the care of hospitalized patients, if we practice appropriate skill-task alignment, develop a culture of mutual respect, and find the best ways to deploy our advanced-practice providers and our physicians.
That can be challenging. Some people, I think, are worried about losing their jobs, and some people feel like they want to “own” all of the patient, because it’s such a part of the culture of medicine. So it’s a really complicated issue, and I think that doctors are going to have to get used to delegating tasks that they used to perform.

So a collaborative practice requires both a professional and a cultural shift?
I think so. I was our inaugural program director for an advanced-practice fellowship in hospital medicine, and in that role, I attended conferences and learning events for program development. I think that many institutions are facing some of the same challenges. For the most part, I’m optimistic about things. I think we’re on the right track, and help is on the way – we just have to figure out how to use it.

Has your institution made any changes along these lines?
We’re primarily using the fellowship as a tool to recruit and retain some of the brightest and best. We’ve got three fellows that matriculated from our program and are currently working in the section of hospital medicine. Everyone’s been really flexible and open to the idea that the job description is emerging. I think my colleagues are very appreciative of our advanced-practice providers. We’ve got two nurse practitioners and one physician assistant who is also a PhD-trained pharmacist. They’ve been great additions to our team.

What are some of the other issues that the Pacific Northwest chapter members are concerned about?
One of our most successful meetings was around telemedicine. There’s a lot of interest in that, and it’s very financially and technically complex. Some hospitals in the area are really doing novel things. One of the most interesting things is an addiction medicine teleconsult.
That’s out of Swedish Medical Center, Seattle. Of course there’s telestroke, which I think is picking up in popularity. We had speakers from Virginia Mason who presented on telestroke. Some institutions are even doing admissions this way. The University of Washington is doing some good antimicrobial stewardship work. They present cases and they teleconference and have an infectious disease consultant. It’s not a program directed at revenue generation, but is focused instead on sharing and spreading expertise.
Our chapter also hosted a presentation on burnout that was pretty well attended. And then, unfortunately, we did lose a hospitalist to suicide over the summer. That was the inspiration for offering the screening of the movie, “Do No Harm: Exposing the Hippocratic Hoax.”

What was the program that you put together around the screening?
We had the filmmaker come for the screening, and we organized a panel discussion with a wellness officer from a local clinic and a psychiatrist who used to be on the board of the Physician Health Program. John Nelson, MD, MHM, one of SHM’s cofounders and a local hospitalist here, also participated as a panelist.
Overall, the event was well received. There were some things that I didn’t really expect. I’m not sure that the film resonated with too many people in the room. It is very much directed at the educational process – med students and residents – and at times the dialogue is a little inflammatory.
I learned a few important things from the film. I did not realize that the tragedy of physician suicide is not unique to the United States – it’s an international issue. And we sometimes use the term “pimping” to talk about questioning interns or residents on rounds. Apparently, that stands for “put in my place,” which is very condescending and unacceptable. I will not use the term again.
I think future conversations need to come from thoughtful, rational, respectful leaders who are willing to work with regulatory agencies, hospitals, and administrators. If we want to move forward, physicians, administrators, and the public need to come together in the best interest of the patient and of public health. And I don’t know who leads that conversation.

Will your chapter have another event around that subject?
We will do what our membership wants and needs. We meet quarterly, and once a year we hold a people’s choice meeting and I solicit topics. If members want to keep the conversation moving, I’m going to do what I can to support them.

What are some other issues that stand out as important to your chapter?
One key topic is the financial side of hospitalist practice, and dealing with issues that seem to create inefficiencies – regulatory issues, documentation issues, things that are important because we want to tell the story of what we’re doing. We certainly want to be reimbursed for the value-added work that we’re doing, but a lot of value-added work creates inefficiencies of practice, and I hear a lot of dissatisfaction around documentation, coding, billing, and other issues related to reimbursement. While people are concerned about these problems, nobody wants to talk about them. They just want somebody to fix it. So I’m not sure what to do with that, because I think if I had a meeting about coding and billing, I would have three attendees.
But our annual poster meeting is always well attended. We always do it at the end of the year, to kick off the holiday season. It’s a nice opportunity to connect socially with colleagues because you mix and you mingle and look at the posters. We had some really great posters, and our top three prize winners were medical students, which is inspirational. They make you feel good about the future.
Our chapter is trying to diversify geographically and clinically. We were fortunate to receive a development funds grant to use technology to do streaming meetings. Our hope is that we can host streaming meetings and eventually transition hosting to rotate around the state. Once there’s large enough attendance, the different delegates can develop their own leadership teams and, eventually, their own chapter. We’re hoping to grow the organization that way.

What else is on the horizon for hospitalists in the Pacific Northwest?
I’d like to see more frequent meetings and a greater variety of meetings. I think there’s interest in adding some kind of service element to the chapter. Maybe we can do a blood pressure screening at a sporting event.
I think we’ll also be focusing on students and residents and trying to create support for them. We held a student event around financial planning, and that was very well attended. I think we would like to do something around mentorship. Of course it’s hard to find mentors, because everybody is so busy.
Our chapter really needs to leverage our technology if we want to have the reach that I’m talking about. I’m looking forward to piloting the streaming meeting concept, and I hope to do some live polling of our meeting attendees to get them engaged. I hope we continue to grow and keep the dialogue going about what matters in hospital medicine, and do our part to shape the future in the way we want it.

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