Managing Physicians May Be Impossible
If you've been covering healthcare as long as I have, your notes and stories over the years are full of comments from and about hospital and health system leaders who tried to manage their physicians, and failed spectacularly. Speaking of tropes, managing physicians over the years has come to be seen as a "career-limiting event" among CEOs. Often, the last event in their tenure boiled down to a vote of no-confidence from the medical staff.
Whether or not they've been successful, or even correct in the way they've chosen to manage their physicians, senior leaders have the right idea: Physicians need to be managed like everyone else. Even leaders need management.
But many physicians are recognizing that their ability to influence healthcare, for the good of the patient, can be more fully realized by a management role of their own. I've had as many as a dozen CMOs tell me they had no idea what they were getting into when they were named CMO, which entails more and more these days, actually managing patient care, and by proxy, managing physician behavior.
Ditto for the burgeoning ranks of physician CEOs in hospitals and health systems. That doesn't mean they regret it. For the most part, they are exhilarated. They appreciate the scale on which they can influence patient care, which, after all, is why the vast majority of them got into medicine to begin with.
This month in HealthLeaders magazine, I write about several organizations that are putting their physician management skills to the test. Perhaps they'll succeed, perhaps not. Physicians have always been leaders in their organizations, whether or not they wanted the role. But that leadership role has been far from multidimensional.
That's changing rapidly. Physicians are leading the development of clinical protocols and managing their financial repercussions as never before.
But they can't do it alone.
Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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