Career development is essential for job seekers. Learn how the CMO of Northeast Georgia Health System uses it as a selling point.
Key elements of healthcare worker recruitment include investing in culture and educational programs, says Vikram "Vik" Reddy, MD, chief medical officer of the Northeast Georgia Health System.
Reddy became CMO of the Gainesville, Georgia-based health system in July. His previous leadership experience includes serving as CMO of two hospitals at the Wellstar Health System in Georgia.
HealthLeaders recently talked with Reddy about the many challenges he faces, including promoting quality in the hospital setting, clinical integration, and population health. Reddy says his biggest challenge is course correcting and dealing with the "new normal" following the crisis stage of the coronavirus pandemic.
"There are challenges in recruitment for nursing," he says. "There is an increasing challenge with regard to reimbursement. There is also an issue with wage inflation. It all adds up to being more mindful with resources. While you are trying to focus on quality and safety, you must acknowledge that we are not going back to the pre-COVID times."
To address the workforce challenge, Reddy is focusing on strategies to draw nurses, physicians, and other team members to Northeast Georgia. The health system needs to recruit healthcare workers in a way that makes joining the organization attractive, he says. This involves investing in the health system's culture and offering educational programs.
"For example, we have a program where someone starts off as a medical assistant and can advance to becoming a nurse," he says. "You are not just coming to us for a job. You are coming to us for a career."
In physician recruitment, the health system is looking for candidates who are willing to make a commitment to the communities they serve and the region's medical community, Reddy says.
"We want to find people who are going to make an investment in both the broader community and the medical community in the area," he says. "We want to make sure our physicians feel they are making a difference—it is not just a job where they show up and move on."
Reddy says he also needs to be mindful that there are not unlimited resources at the health system.
"If there is already a service being provided by other health systems or other healthcare providers in the area, we do not want to duplicate services just because we can," he points out. "We want to be selective in what the community needs."
Vikram "Vik" Reddy, MD, chief medical officer of Northeast Georgia Health System. Photo courtesy of Northeast Georgia Health System.
Serving as a hospital CMO vs. a health system CMO
Having previously served as CMO of two hospitals, Reddy says overseeing five hospitals in the Northeast Georgia Health System requires him to be cognizant of the individual hospitals and their differences.
"For example, our flagship hospital, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville, has nearly 600 beds," he says. "It is a Level 1 trauma center. The hospital offers several quaternary care services. Whereas our smallest hospital, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Habersham, is much more rural and we do not have as many services there. What you want to do is ensure that the patients at Habersham and the patients at Gainesville have the same level of quality of care."
One of the biggest challenges in serving rural populations is ensuring access to primary care, Reddy says.
"One of the reasons I was attracted to Northeast Georgia Health System is that unlike several other health systems in the Georgia market, we have alignment with 70% of the primary care practices—whether it is employment or agreements—in our primary service area," he says. "With Habersham, we are going to be investing in more primary care in that area. Primary care drives quality."
He says the health system is taking a three-pronged approach to boosting primary care services in rural areas: Opening new primary care practices, opening new urgent care centers, and expanding virtual care.
Succeeding in clinical integration
The key to success in clinical integration is partnerships outside the four walls of the hospital, says Reddy, who previously served as chief clinical integration officer at Henry Ford Health's Macomb Hospital. Clinical integration requires having partnerships with other nonprofits and government agencies as well as having a tight relationship between the inpatient and outpatient settings, he says.
"For example, with hospital readmissions, our goal is to try to avoid readmissions if they can be avoided, and that requires an exchange of information with the ambulatory practices to know what changes have occurred, what medications were prescribed, and what tests occurred," he says. "There needs to be a bidirectional feed of information so that we can make sure when the patient is discharged there is a smooth transition to the outpatient setting."
Driving clinical quality
The health system uses lean management and daily huddles to drive clinical quality, Reddy says.
"For example, during our huddles, we look at any kind of immediate safety issues, and we try to manage them right away," he says. "If there is an issue, we determine how we are going to solve it and identify who is going to own it. If there are any barriers, the issue can be escalated to someone in the C-suite. It is key to have line of sight into quality and safety."
Hospital-acquired conditions are a primary concern at the health system. For example, catheter infections can lead to prolonged hospital stays, prolonged morbidity, and even mortality if the infection is severe. Reddy says the health system is using technology such as the electronic health record to reduce catheter infections.
"What we do with technology is we identify the patients in the hospital who have catheters, and we have physicians and nurses try to figure out which lines can be removed, and who is at risk of getting an infection," he says. "As we get increasingly wired, we want to see how we can leverage technology and move away from manual processes of writing down who has catheters. We want to use technology to generate reports and streamline workflows to prevent harm."
Prevailing in population health
Reddy, who also previously served as associate medical director of population health for Henry Ford Health, says partnerships and risk assessment are essential for population health initiatives.
"At Henry Ford, we had a large population of patients who did not have access to things like primary care," he says. "So we partnered with another group, which looked at patients' medications and reviewed them to see whether there were any kinds of gaps that could be referred to our primary care practices."
There are several approaches to risk assessment, he says: "Some of it is doing community needs assessments, but you also need to do interviews with patients and analyze why patients are readmitted. You need to analyze why individuals are showing up at your hospitals and ambulatory clinics. You can use technology to investigate, but you also must get into the weeds with individuals to find out about gaps."
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.
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