Various initiatives across the health systems signal that medical doctors are seeking to become more involved in roles for improvement that go beyond their daily responsibilities for patient care and collaborating with peers. These efforts are based on the realization that medical expertise is increasingly being applied to address collective problems and challenges related to healthcare, and it is therefore important for a better connection to be established between clinical practice and organizational and system goals.
The new regulations, financial incentives and organizational changes that are introduced to facilitate health systems’ progress may create the conditions for medical doctors to become stronger involved in leadership roles which are more connected with their values and interests. Such roles and expectations imply the use of their professional knowledge to promote front-lines clinicians’ abilities for innovation, allowing them to introduce improvements into daily practice. They also require a combination of their professional knowledge with managerial skills to help establish effective links between management and clinicians. These positions are commonly referred to as clinical leaders.
It is widely recognized that the effectiveness of physician-leaders depends on their ability to understand the motivations and needs of other clinicians, which in turn will translate into enhanced organizational performance. Cosgrove explains that as physician-leaders, Cleveland Clinic staff “get it.” Moreover, a doctor’s experience as an internal medicine specialist is invaluable to his or her role as leader because it helps them to connect with their colleagues’ experiences and insights and to understand their concerns.
In addition, being a medical leader can enhance credibility among physicians, which may result in improved collaboration. Physician-leaders are also perceived as being more likely to encourage and support risk taking and experimental efforts that could yield promising results (such as the first coronary artery bypass operation performed by Rene Favaloro in the late ’60s).
Moreover, a doctor’s active participation with a professional society is often viewed as an indication of quality and trustworthiness. This is because medical societies are often staffed with experts in their specialty who act as the voice of the profession, are well informed on policy discussions, can be actively engaged in leadership development and work on the forefront of the discipline.
Nevertheless, the study authors also found that the organization of medical professionals varies internationally. For example, some countries are characterized by obligatory registration, whereas others offer voluntary membership, and still others are organized in medical federations that have different levels of decentralization and type of registration. It is important for the research community to be aware of this variation as it may influence the effectiveness of physician-led health system reforms. A consolidated and consistent classification of medical professional organizations would help to identify which characteristics are most associated with success and which are not. This would allow for more rigorous comparisons between different regions and countries. This would contribute to the development of a robust body of evidence on physician practice attributes that could be used to improve quality measures.