The rest of the world is catching on to what we already know: Physician executives are healthcare's driving force. In fact, the physician executive "community" is steadily gaining recognition for its dedicated efforts to improve quality and efficiency.
Consider it an evolutionary process. Prior to the 1980s, it was rare for physicians to cross over to the "dark side" of business. Most were either bitten by the entrepreneurial bug or worked their way up the management chain at academic medical centers.
The catalyst for growth was the suffocating intrusion of managed care into the doctor-patient relationship. Faced with a loss of control, physicians opted to become savvier about business. Thousands enrolled in graduate business programs, joined the American College of Physician Executives or volunteered for committee positions.
"Doctors are finding it's no longer enough to have an M.D. after their names," USA Today reported July 5. "After a decade of watching health care become ever more of a business and griping that bean counters were taking over, physicians are embracing the enemy: They're becoming MBAs."
By the late 1990s, hospitals, health systems and group practices had created the heady post of chief medical officer, but many holding that title became frustrated by fuzzy job descriptions and small budgets.
The newest wave of physician executives breaks in two directions. Some are becoming involved in owning or operating specialty hospitals, surgery centers and other medical boutiques. Others are taking a different route inside medical groups, hospitals and health systems.
Today's physician executives are knee-deep in information technology. They are helping to buy, customize and implement use of computer systems that will automate medical records and streamline patient care. After years of costly IT misfires, providers have discovered that hands-on involvement by physician executives enhances the chances of success.
On June 10, The Wall Street Journal identified "a new breed of doctors who . . . combine a background in medicine with a strong knowledge of information technology. Their twin specialties help them do high-tech triage on their hospitals . . . "
The impact of physician executives also reaches beyond IT. They are becoming more involved in purchasing clinical equipment, pharmaceuticals and outsourced services.
This "community" will continue to blossom as physicians discover the opportunities available to those with clinical training and business skills. More important, they will make decisions that will determine healthcare's destiny.