Who needs an MBA? Top hospitals are run by doctors, study says

To the unease of some nonclinical hospital managers, a new study published in the Social Science and Medicine journal finds that the best hospitals are typically run by medical physicians and not managers. Researchers at the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany, looked at top-performing hospitals in cancer, digestive disorders, and heart surgery. They found that physician-run hospitals had a 25 percent higher quality score, compared to those run by nonclinical CEOs.

"Over the last few decades there has been a growing tendency for hospital boards to appoint managers as CEOs. These findings raise some warning signs over that trend," said Amanda Goodall PhD, the author of the study, and a senior researcher at the Institute for the Study of Labor, in a press release yesterday. "It seems that age-old conventions about having doctors in charge--currently an idea that is out of favor around the world--may turn out to have been right all along."

Proponents of physician-led hospitals say that a clinical degree is necessary to running hospitals, while supports for nonclinical executives argue that business backgrounds are imperative. However, in recent years, physician-owned hospitals, in particular, have come under attack for fear of conflicts of interests when doctors have a stake in the financial well-being of the institution.

"We are watching Dr. Goodall's research carefully because it seems to finally provide a real evidence-base for physician leadership. This is something we have long supported," said Barry Silbaugh MD, the CEO of American College of Physician Executives, in the press release.

[Image courtesy of IZA]

To learn more:
- read the full study (.pdf)
- read the press release