Process flow diagrams. Staff bandwidth. Unbalanced work flows.
Addressing a room full of attentive, mid-career professionals, Drexel University professor David E. Stein spoke in a language suited to an executive MBA program.
But his class on Friday took place at Springfield Hospital, in Delaware County, and his students included pediatricians, a cardiologist, a psychiatrist, and a vascular surgeon, among other physicians in the Crozer-Keystone Health System.
The goal: to get doctors to think about the business side of health care.
“I never thought about it this way,” said Joyann Kroser, a gastroenterologist in the health system’s Brinton Lake outpatient surgery center in Glen Mills.
Physicians have been getting business degrees for years, but this program is different — a series of 10 monthly courses tailored specifically to the needs of doctors. Making sure a hospital has the right number of beds. Justifying the expense of a new robotic surgery center. Streamlining workflow with the goal of making patients healthier. And happier, Stein reminded his students on Friday.
“If you have a two-hour wait in the waiting room, you’re not running a great clinic with high patient satisfaction scores,” he warned.
Called the Physician Leadership Academy, the program is now in its second year, created by Drexel faculty members at the request of Crozer-Keystone executives.
Drexel’s LeBow College of Business has been creating similar courses for years in other industries, but this is the first one for physicians. The entity that develops such classes is called Drexel University Solutions Institute, and it is now a university-wide endeavor, involving faculty beyond the business school as needed, executive director Anna Koulas said. She declined to disclose the cost of the course.
Stein is a colorectal surgeon and professor at Drexel’s College of Medicine, though he has management expertise from his former role as chief operations officer for Drexel’s physician network.
He is joined in teaching the class by LeBow faculty members Lauren D’Innocenzo and David Becher.
Though the 10 classes are tailored to the field of medicine, the lessons on leadership, communication, and management have broader relevance, D’Innocenzo said before the class began.
“These skills are valuable across almost any field that you’re in,” she said.
The physicians, who volunteered to take the course, do not get credit toward a Drexel MBA degree. But it counts toward continuing medical education credits that they are required to fulfill.
Friday’s topics included accounting for the “contribution margin” from a particular department in the hospital. That is simply operating revenue minus operating expenses, Stein explained. But if someone in finance starts allocating a share of hospital-wide overhead to each department, things get a lot trickier.
“Let’s learn how to talk the language of the CFO,” he said.
Stein also explored how to make sure there is enough capacity for patients, but not too much. He described getting into an argument with a colleague who was delighted to find that the custodians who cleaned operating rooms were occupied 100% of the time.
Wrong, Stein said.
“Yes, it’s good that they’re not sitting around doing nothing,” he told the Crozer students. “But the second there are two emergency cases, there’s no one left to clean the extra room.”
As a Drexel professor who practiced at Hahnemann University Hospital, Stein got some first-hand experience of a business crisis when the hospital declared bankruptcy and closed this year. That episode was not on the curriculum Friday. Stein said afterward that he has taken a job at the MedStar Health System in Baltimore, though he will retain his Drexel faculty spot.
Kroser, the gastroenterologist, said Stein’s class had been valuable so far. But she said that in some ways, the field of medicine is unique.
“We don’t want to treat patients like a commodity,” she said. “At the heart of it, we’re still doctors, treating human beings who are coming in with a problem.”
Eliminating workflow bottlenecks and reducing wait times? Sure, count her in. But medicine is known for yielding unforeseen events, she said.
“On any given day," she said, "there are things that are going to throw this out of whack.”