Jean Wright, M.D., vice president of medical management for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, has many roles: physician manager, teacher, fund-raiser, organizer, nurturer and mentor. What stands behind her accomplishments is her ability to solve problems and to encourage others to join her efforts.
Her affiliation with the organization has been a long one, starting 22 years ago as an intern at Egleston Children's Hospital, which merged in 1998 with Scottish Rite Children's Medical Center to become Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a 180-bed teaching hospital.
She has served as chief of emergency and urgent care medicine at Egleston, CEO of its pediatric group, vice chairman of its department of pediatrics, medical director of the hospital and finally vice president of medical management, leading to the same position at the merged organization.
When Susan Bryant, vice president of development for Children's Healthcare, called Wright a "Renaissance woman," she chose an apt description. "Dr. Wright's commitment to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta has been the standard by which I judge myself and others," Bryant says. "She is passionate and credible about what she does in relaying what the organization means to the community."
During her tenure at Egleston and now at Children's Healthcare, Wright, 46, has seen many of her dreams become reality. When it became evident that Egleston and Emory University, with which it was affiliated, lacked sufficient infrastructure for staffing pediatric emergency centers, she helped create a pediatric physician organization to address governance, recruitment, retention, incentives, administration and financing. She was instrumental in developing a full-fledged pediatric emergency department with enough physicians to provide services and to teach residents at Emory.
Not one to turn her head, Wright realized there were only a few private physicians in Atlanta accepting Medicaid beneficiaries and thus many children in northern sections of Atlanta lacked primary care. Through the physician organization, she created seven primary care practices dedicated almost entirely to the Medicaid population. Four years after its inception, the physician organization now employs more than 80 physicians, providing staffing for more than 80,000 emergency room visits and 100,000 urgent and primary care visits.
Wright, who says she is a teacher at heart, has created a real world learning environment for pediatric residents, offering what she says most doctors never learn: budgeting, credentialing, hiring and firing techniques, utilization management, and medical administration. "I enjoy seeing the light come on," she says. "We are creating a learning organization, bringing more doctors into administration and teaching them to become executives. I am pleased that there are such bright, young leaders."
In 1996, when Wright became vice president of medical management for Egleston, she built a medical management department integrating quality control and improvement, performance, credentialing, utilization management, and health outcomes. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, touted Egleston's performance methodology as a best practice. The methodology is used for measuring performance and identifying opportunities for making improvements.
What grew out of the new department were a physician practice council, which utilizes the performance methodology, and a multispecialty peer review process.
In the new process, more rigorous than what previously existed, a committee of physicians studies single adverse events related to physician performance and behavior--all highly confidential information--with the goal of improving quality.
The physician practice council receives group-specific, blinded performance data from formerly competing practices representing Egleston and Scottish Rite. The measures, determined by physicians, are based on indicators such as length of stay, clinical outcomes and cost per case. The council reviews the outcomes and by pinpointing which physicians have the most consistent results, develops best practices that are used as guidelines by physicians.
"Both initiatives have led to more accountability and honest dialogue and enable problems to be solved earlier," Wright says. "They are not meant to be punitive but instead offer cooperation, improve quality, reinforce common issues across specialty lines and find resolutions."
The merger brought still more challenges for Wright: unifying two distinct physician communities and creating one set of bylaws, policies and credentialing. The unification took 12 months, from start to finish, which Wright says is remarkable for a 1,800-physician organization.
This month will mark a career change for Wright; she will become executive director of a start-up not-for-profit organization helping faith-based groups manage health insurance. Children's Healthcare, however, won't lose her entirely; she will continue part-time as a pediatric intensivist dedicated to children in the ICU.
"She is truly a dynamic humanitarian, committed to providing care by maintaining the highest ethical and moral standards of any physician I have ever met," says Susan Bowen, system director of quality and performance improvement.
"She is one of the most well-rounded individuals I've ever met," Bryant says, "with a voracious appetite for understanding people, gaining knowledge and sharing it. (She) has always been an outstanding, risk-taking, physician leader who instills passion in others. She is the only physician I'd want to take care of my child."