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Program Helps Surgeon Prioritize

By Nancy Humphrey
February 2012

A Vanderbilt surgeon, found to be at high-risk for being sued for malpractice, said that a jam-packed schedule made patients feel he
wasn’t available to them.

“My patients were unhappy as they felt they had a hard time with access to me, and I was not spending enough time communicating,” he said. “As a surgeon, our compensation and value is driven by volume, and I was trying to see too many patients and schedule too many cases.”

In addition, the surgeon’s busy schedule affected clinic morale which was passed along to their care of the patients. “As I got busier, my patients felt as if they could not get a hold of anyone with a concern.”

The bottom line was that patient satisfaction was not the surgeon’s primary focus. Clinical volume, and the resulting revenue, was.
An “awareness conversation” with a peer messenger from Vanderbilt’s Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy left the surgeon
initially feeling frustrated and confused about expectations. But then it allowed him to determine the changes that needed to occur.

“It helped me refocus on my priority as a physician, which is patient care, versus trying to run an ‘efficient assembly line’ of patients. I learned to say ‘no’ and to work hard to limit my patient load to something that I can manage effectively,” the surgeon said.

An awareness conversation should be taken for what it is – a conversation to make a physician aware of concerning actions or behaviors. “It is not a judgment of you as a person, or that you are a ‘bad’ physician,” he said.

“In a large system like Vanderbilt, we as physicians will be pulled in many competing directions. At the end of the day, we have to step up and take responsibility for the care of our patients, and while we need to remain professional, we cannot be passive in relegating ‘responsibility’ of this to those around us. Vanderbilt is a great system with a fantastic infrastructure, but at the end of the day, we are still the physicians who our patients place their trust in.”


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