How To Mitigate The Next Pandemic: Encourage New Physicians To Get Business Training!
Crises have a habit of magnifying gaps that we could not have imagined beforehand. And, this Covid pandemic reveals these large cracks in our healthcare system by the dozens. We have seen hospitals and imaging centers functioning without physicians receiving the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). We are witnessing a lack of ventilators for our sickest Covid patients. Moreover, we are beholding our healthcare system, reliant on lucrative elective procedures, go sour. Practices, hospitals, and imaging centers temporarily are almost empty (other than Covid patients) and dependent on our government to stay afloat. And, these issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
Did these misfires have to happen? Could leadership have prevented the dramatic shortfalls that we are experiencing now? How can we have known our future? Well, it’s a matter of ill-preparation. And, this pandemic was not on the radar. But why? For years, many intelligent folks have been warning about preparations for pandemics. (check out this TED talk by Bill Gates) And, it is not just him. Other brilliant scientists and doctors have warned us about preparing for the next pandemic. No one listened.
Reason For Health Care’s Poor Preparation For The Current Pandemic
Why did hospitals and our healthcare system ignore prescient information sitting right in front of their noses? Well, it has to do with the model of healthcare that we follow in this country. We have been treating healthcare as just a business for years. And if you think about it only in these terms, the situation that we are in makes sense. Why would you prepare for calamity if it’s going to decrease your short-term and intermediate-term profits? Preparations reduce your bottom line.
But herein lies the crux of the problem. We can’t just think of healthcare as a business, but also as a way to protect and serve people. To accomplish this task, we have charged the wrong leaders with the responsibilities of running our healthcare system. Having only a JD or MBA, although helpful for understanding the business of medicine in the short term, is not enough. We need leaders in charge who have also been in the trenches and understand what our physicians and patients need in the long run. They need to understand the science and art of medicine. For these reasons, I would argue that we need more MDs and MD/MBA types in administrative leadership positions. With physicians in charge, hospitals could have prevented many of these issues.
Examples Of Why Physician-Hospital Administrators Would Make Better Health Care Administrators/Leaders
Let’s take some of the examples I provided above. PPE and ventilators are examples of two expenses that make no sense for a hospital to buy if you are thinking only about the business of medicine. First of all, buying such equipment would attract patients with infectious diseases to your institution because you have the equipment to manage only the sickest of patients. These patients cost more to the hospital. Additionally, why buy ventilators or PPE if you don’t need them now?. For-profit and non-profit institutions lose money off of their balance sheets, thereby decreasing bonuses given to their leaders. We can no longer think in these terms.
Or, let’s think about elective procedures as a way for hospitals to make money. Does it make sense? No. In a pandemic, the profit centers of a hospital shut down, causing the government to have to bail them out. Instead, healthcare profits should be made based on treating patients for sickness and making them well. Who better than a physician with some business sense to change this system so that we begin to treat patients and not just increase short term hospital cash flow?
The Answer: Encourage More Physicians/Radiologists To Receive Business Training
I want to underscore that we do need folks with business minds in charge of our healthcare institutions. However, these folks should be the doctors as leaders who can understand both business and medicine. To know how to run a healthcare system, you need experience in the trenches, both in the corporate world and medicine.
So, we, as program directors, mentors, and faculty, should encourage our residents to learn more about hospital administration. Instead of dismissing those residents that are not following our clinical footsteps, we should guide these new physicians on how they can begin this new pathway. Business courses should not be just an afterthought or tack-on to the radiology curriculum.
We need to start thinking differently about what and how we teach about the business of medicine. Let’s start taking more seriously some of the excellent curricula that the ACR or other physician societies offer and create mandatory externships to learn more about healthcare administration. Or maybe, just like informatics or MSK, all specialties should have fellowships dedicated to hospital administration. Now is the time to create easy-to-follow health care administrative pathways for our residents. It’s more than just creating another silly specialty pathway; it’s the future and viability of the entire healthcare system at stake!