Modern Healthcare's 11th annual ranking of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders in many ways reflects the transformation of healthcare over the past several years.
This year's roster highlights the growth of efforts to improve patient safety, with three of the seven first-time honorees in positions focused on quality of care. That trend starts at the top of the list with patient-safety expert Dr. Robert Wachter of the University of California at San Francisco.
“The amount of attention on quality and safety over the past 10 to 15 years has certainly increased, as well as the level of expertise we all have in terms of how to actually improve quality and safety,” said Dr. Tejal Gandhi, CEO of the National Patient Safety Foundation, who made this year's list for the first time. “The priority level of quality and safety work is continuing to grow,” she said.
Gandhi, at No. 29, is one of nine women on this year's list, which includes fellow newcomers Dr. Lynn Simon, president of clinical services and chief quality officer for Community Health Systems, Franklin, Tenn., No. 17; Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women's Health Care in Boston, No. 22; and Dr. Barbara Levy, chair of the American Medical Association/Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), an advisory panel to the CMS, at No. 43.
“Even though everyone (in a healthcare organization) plays a role that touches a patient, physician leaders are uniquely positioned to lead these safety and quality efforts,” Simon said. “The clinical aspect of what we do and our experience allows us to engage other practicing physicians in these quality efforts.”
Other names new to the list include U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, No. 16 and Dr. Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, ranked at No. 30.
This year marks a return to the list of a number of physicians who have been honored in the past but were not included in 2014. Among them is author and researcher Dr. Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and an endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, who last made the list in 2013 when he was ranked No. 38. Gawande has risen to No. 4 this year, likely in part for his work to promote a national discussion on dying and end-of-life care with his best-selling book Being Mortal.
“It's really about having discussions with patients and families about their goals for care besides just living longer,” Gawande said. “The goal is not a good death; the goal is how people can have as good a life as possible all the way to the very end.”
Murthy, who took office last December after a contentious Senate confirmation process, is among four physician leaders who work for the federal government. Joining him are Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who moved up from No. 18 in 2014 to No. 3 this year; Dr. Karen DeSalvo, HHS' national coordinator for healthcare information technology, who rose from No. 41 in 2014 to No. 8 this year; and Dr. Patrick Conway, deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer for the CMS, who moved from No. 6 in 2014 to No. 11.
Absent from this year's list is Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who has been a perennial honoree since first appearing on the list in 2010 after her appointment the previous year. She ranked No. 4 in 2014. Hamburg announced she was stepping down from her post at the end of March.