Medical organizations have never needed leadership from their physicians more than they do today. I started my consulting service to help physicians and their organizations provide this leadership, since excellent patient care depends upon it. Why is there a problem? There are two related problems. First, many medical organizations don’t think they need their front-line clinicians involved in “the business.” Second, many physicians don’t know how to be helpful even if they do have opportunities to be involved.
I think the best mental model for a healthcare organization of any size is triangular with three boundary conditions for failure: clinical, financial, and human. The successful organization will find a way to maintain a dynamic balance of forces that keeps the organization functioning in all three domains with sufficient resilience to overcome the inevitable jolts. Physicians must be involved in defining clinical success and failure and must be involved in leading their particular clinical microsystem.
Physicians are the only ones, for instance, who can decide when a patient should be “off protocol.” They are the ones who must decide when standard care should be provided and when personalized, non-standard, care is appropriate. They are also in a good place to measure stress in the clinical support staff if workload exceeds capacity or training is not sufficient. After all, few of us practice without help from a virtual army of nurses and technicians. Yet few physicians receive any training in these issues during medical school and residency and there are fewer opportunities for on-the-job training with effective mentors.
I have also spent many years leading courses and seminars designed to teach the basics of leadership to physicians and have incorporated many of the things I have learned from doing so in these articles. But leadership is not a skill obtained in a vacuum—it always occurs in a specific organizational context. Consequently, I have also tried to distill insights into the increasingly bureaucratic large organizations within which physicians now practice to help guide their education.
Finally, no organization exists in a vacuum. Trends in medical practice, changes in the way health care is financed and organized impact everyone, so physicians must stay abreast of these changes. I contend the central challenge in the practice of medicine today is keeping an eye on the patient’s needs. It may seem obvious, but the competing priorities of different organizations and the influence of money makes it very hard to keep patients at the center of any organization. Frontline clinicians must do so if organizations are to succeed.
Some organizations recognize their issues, but it can be helpful to bring in an outsider to say the things that need to be said. After all, the consultant goes home and does not have to live in the daily politics of the organization. If that is your situation, I am available for talks, seminars, and individual coaching for physicians attempting to provide clinical leadership in their organizations. Contact me and we can discuss your needs.
Other organizations are not sure of their issues, so it can be helpful to bring in an outsider to establish a “diagnosis” and recommend various treatment options. Just like in clinical medicine, though, it is up to the patient to accept the diagnosis and follow through on the treatment plan. If this is your situation, contact me and we can discuss your needs.
Even if you don’t need a consultation, I hope you find the articles on this website informative, provocative and helpful as you think about how you can help your organization provide high-quality medical care in today’s complicated environment. You can sign up for email notification when new articles are posted or follow me on LinkedIn or Facebook and receive notification that way. It is only together that we can improve the care of our patients, so learning how to work together in our organizations is truly a matter of life or death.
January 13, 2021
What lessons does building cathedrals have for healthcare reform?
December 28, 2020
Optimism or Hope
"Hope is optimism with a plan."
December 10, 2020
Reliability or Dependability
Is reliability too narrow a goal? Shouldn't we strive to be dependable, with its connotation of both reliability and trustworthiness?
November 22, 2020
Fear is a normal response to threat, but how do some people develop resilience in the face of it?
November 9, 2020
Managers or Operators
Physicians often blame the "suits" for their problems. Maybe medical organizations need more operators and fewer managers.
October 26, 2020
Standardization Versus Innovation
Two recent articles present starkly different approaches for healthcare organizations dealing with the stresses of the pandemic and healthcare reform.
October 13, 2020
Fusion cells aren't a new form of fuel, but a method designed to break down institutional rigidity.
September 28, 2020
Physician Leadership 2020
Lee and Cosgrove identify six challenges in the decade ahead for physician leaders, but many organizations currently lack meaningful physician participation.
September 16, 2020
Conversation is an essential step if we are to overcome the problems with our current dysfunctional health care system.
August 30, 2020
Quality Improvement 3.0
Is it time for clinical quality improvement 3.0?
August 18, 2020
"Agile managment" is a business term akin to what I have called resilience. Are we at the point of a conversion experience?
August 4, 2020
Strategic Questions for Physicians Part 2
Specialist physicians also face strategic choices and no matte which is made, the future will bring major changes.
July 20, 2020
Strategic Questions for Physicians Part 1
Several trends are making it imperative for physicians to re-examine their idea of what effective practice of medicine entails.
July 6, 2020
Answering Strategic Questions Part 2
What happens if hospitals think of themselves as cost centers, not revenue centers?
June 22, 2020
Answering Strategic Questions
Answering strategic questions is hard work and also uncertain, but these are not reasons to avoid asking them.
June 7, 2020
“It is time…to realize that changes in culture, investment, leadership, and even the distribution of power are more important for progress toward the Triple Aim than measurement, alone, ever was or ever will be.”
May 26, 2020
As Michael Tackett put it, we are experiencing a historic referendum on risk. How should we think about it?
May 12, 2020
The pandemic is a time of disruption. Can it be chance to "push the reset button?
April 29, 2020
If the public response to an epidemic is a play in three parts, we are currently in Act 2 and Act 3.
April 13, 2020
Are we spending our health care dollars wisely?
March 30, 2020
To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you fight coronavirus with the healthcare system you have, not the one you might wish you had.
March 10, 2020
Rushing to a Solution?
Does our rush to solve organizational problems make them worse?
February 26, 2020
Transitional care management seems likely to be good for patients, but costly to hospital-based organizations. A recent study illuminates the challenge.
February 5, 2020
Asking the Right Questions
Solutions for problems in health care abound, but are we asking the right questions?
January 21, 2020
"Hotspotting" is a new term for an old idea, but it usually means identifying and intervening on patients who are, or at risk for becoming, superutilizers. But are we asking the right questions?
January 7, 2020
Medicine has adopted the language of manufacturing with terms such as efficiency, reliability, and “lean processes.” An unintended consequence may be increased risk of system failure.
December 16, 2019
The Doctor-Patient Relationship
The doctor-patient relationship is central, but is threatened by excessive focus on productivity. But is the productivity-driven payment system corrupt?
December 3, 2019
Platforming is a new buzzword for an old idea--successful organizations put the customer at the center of the business. What does that mean for healthcare organizations?
November 18, 2019
Getting the Tempo Right
Effective doctor and patient communication requires getting the tempo of the conversation right, not speed, but the current production system makes this a rare event.
November 5, 2019
Experimentation may seem risky, but is essential for progress. How do we do it safely in challenging times?
October 23, 2019
More on the Quality Paradox
The quality paradox is the number may improve while the experience of care worsens. What's new?
October 8, 2019
Playing it Safe?
Many health care organizations have become frightened—so much change is being forced upon them it seems insane to voluntarily try something different. But what it it is essential?
September 18, 2019
A work-around get past a problem with addressing either the root cause or a solution. Health care abounds with work-arounds.
September 3, 2019
More on Money in Healthcare
Hospitals account for the largest fraction of the healthcare dollar, but are usually hegemonic if not monopolies in their communities. Can Trustees call them back to their mission of patient care?