ACHE16: How to develop and support strong physician leaders

CHICAGO -- The need for competent, effective physician leaders has never been greater. But many doctors are thrust into the role even though they don't have the skills or temperament for the job.

To ensure physicians selected for leadership positions are successful, organizations must develop them and align leaders to common goals, Brian Lipman, M.D., president of the ProHealth Care Medical Group in Wisconsin, and Andrew Ziskind, M.D., managing director of Huron Consulting Group, told attendees of the American College of Healthcare Executives 2016 Congress.

"In a nutshell, good physician leaders are in short supply," Ziskind said. It's up to organizations to close the gap and identify the right people who have the personality, temperament, skills and experience for the role. But organization must then train, support and mentor these individuals so they successfully transition to leadership.

Physician leaders who have the greatest chance for success are individuals who communicate well, are adaptable, fast learners, have strong problem-solving skills, focus on results, can look at the broader health system and are willing to take a risk. They also have a high degree of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, patience, humility and have strong decision-making skills.

"When you are selecting physician leaders ... look for experience, a track record of success," Ziskind said, adding that a person's credentials do not matter because they have nothing to do with a track record.

He also warned attendees of signs the person is wrong for the role. "You don't want folks who defend their turf, appear disinterested, who ignore under-performers or who try too hard to please everybody," he said.

Once you find the right person, you must develop their skills. Physicians need to learn how to function in a dyad, manage difficult colleagues, run meetings and get people on board. Finally, Ziskind said, the goals for the physician leaders must align with the organization's goals.

A model training program

As an example of a comprehensive training program, Lipman explained the model that ProHealth Care uses. The organization includes a 317-bed tertiary hospital, a 75-bed community hospital and has a pluralistic medical model with employed and independent physicians working together. The medical group includes 188 physicians, 98 advanced practice providers and 42 associated clinicians.

To promote strong physician engagement and optimally manage the medical group, ProHealth Care Medical Group's governance structure includes:

  • a physician leadership council made up of six physicians
  • a practice advisory group, which is made up of 20 physician
  • a clinical operations committee, which includes six physicians
  • a financial and compensation committee, which is made up of six physicians
  • a professional practice and quality committee, which is made up of six physicians

To support these physician leaders, the organization holds a physician leadership academy that meets every three months over a three-year period. Participants are a mix of hospital and clinic division physician leaders who are paired with operational dyad leaders. Attending together, Lipman said, lets them get to know each other better in a less harried environment. A new class will begin in 2017 with 24 members (12 dyads).

In addition, ProHealth Care sends all new physician leaders in the hospital division to a Horty Springer Annual Leadership Conference for four days where they learn about hospital governance.

The medical group also conducts annual half-day retreats for leaders and staff. The first year the retreat focused on executing quality through team-based care. In year two, they learned how to build high-functioning teams and in the third year the focus was on leading teams to higher achievement together.

Lipman said the organization also uses a web-based adult learning tool where all providers and staff can learn about different topics, such as patient-centered care, quality and safety, physician leadership, high-performing teams and difficult clinical encounters.

Finally, the organization has a strategic advisory council, led by the system's CEO, where physician leaders meet with senior system executives to review and advise on system strategic issues.