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Building the Best Physician Team

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, July 24, 2012

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Today, many hospital organizations are teeming with teams, forming physician groups to make decisions about bringing in new doctors, provide clinical care, and make recommendations about administrative planning:

In Maryland, a longtime CMO retires and the opening creates an opportunity to revisit the entire structure of physician involvement for a health system.

In Texas, a physician team lays the groundwork for how a new hospital is built.

In Wisconsin, a large medical group looks inside itself to revamp its physician team to coexist with a larger health system.

Developing teams
As various health systems work to put physician teams together, the organizations often abandon old models. They are looking to forge relationships bound by teamwork, cohesiveness, and coordination as never before. They also want team members who appreciate the fact that a hospital must operate as a business.

Hospitals that acquire physician groups need precise planning to integrate these new medical teams. "We recruit physicians who share our philosophy," says Paul Colavita, president of the Carolinas HealthCare System's Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, which has more than 90 physicians and 24 locations in North

and South Carolina. CHS, based in Charlotte, N.C., has 6,300 beds in locations in both states. As Colavita evaluates physicians for his team, first and foremost "they must be team players to function well in our organization," he says. Sanger relies on references from the physician's instructors, partners, and colleagues. Putting patients first is the top priority. "The decision-making is evidence-based and appropriate," he adds.

Under the old medical staff model, physicians provided clinical care only within the appropriate silo in a top-down structure that walled off communication. Information might move up or down the ladder, but rarely from silo to silo, which impedes real discoveries and breakthroughs in advancing care and identifying efficiencies that can be shared.

Now hospitals are expanding their physician teams and revamping their leadership structures, establishing specialized committees to oversee various jobs and undertake new missions. And some are going further, establishing academies to cultivate physician leaders for various teams.

Developing leadership
Such leadership cultivation is what the Iowa Health System has done in preparation for a planned accountable care organization, says Bill Leaver, president and CEO of the 1,291-bed system based in Des Moines. Earlier this year, the system joined with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa to form an ACO, in hopes of reducing hospital readmissions.

To prepare for the ACO, Leaver says Iowa Health System had little choice but to improve its physician team, concentrating on developing physician leaders, now and for the future. Two years ago, the Iowa Health System created a physician leadership academy, an intensive graduate-level course of study that focuses on individual development and  advanced leadership training with an emphasis on strategic skills, quality innovations, and information technology. Physicians selected for the leadership academy participate in a confidential assessment to identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as to pinpoint the knowledge and skills needed to be effective leaders.

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