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With the passing of Ken Cohn, M.D., on June 24, the world lost a gentle and caring soul and I lost a friend and colleague. Ken was an unassuming and modest man with great talents who excelled in medicine, in management, in letters, in teaching, in mentoring, in family and in life.
I first met him at Memorial Hospital where he was associate professor of surgery at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, chief of surgical oncology at the VA Hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, and provided part time surgical coverage for us. He was unusual as a person and even more unusual as a surgeon, as he defied every stereotypical surgical personality trait. He was quiet, modest, self-effacing, intellectual, calm, thoughtful and deeply introspective. I immediately liked him and was drawn (as many have been) to his quiet caring demeanor and thoughtful attitude. His interests were varied and extended from medicine to history to literature to management to classical music to art to the Buffalo Bills, his original hometown heroes.
A recent FierceHealthcare story cited five ways to boost hospital-physician engagement:
Building on the first goal, I wrote an article recently that described a collaboration between a hospital CFO and a physician that taught the physician how to write a business plan for a new wound care center, which enabled patients to stay within the community and brought in a new source of revenue to the hospital. The physician became so interested in finance that he effectively functions as the chief medical finance officer, conducing strategic consultations on finance with both administrators and fellow physicians.
At the Healthcare Roundtable last week, I spoke about work I facilitated at a West Coast community hospital.
The work arose from the hospital's need for a new facility to remain in seismic compliance with California Senate Bill 1953. Marked uncertainty arose about what services to offer when physicians took business offsite with an ambulatory surgical center, gastrointestinal service and pain management unit.
Admitting uncertainty, the hospital invested in a medical advisory panel that remains in existence today to assist with strategic planning for an uncertain future. The returns included:
When we had children in school, my wife used to sing along with the Staples commercial every August, "It's the most wonderful time of the year." For her, it represented getting our kids out of the house. For me, it represented new teachers and new learning.
Ongoing education isn't just for kids. For those who feel that "surgical humility" is an oxymoron, I decided to go back to school this fall to take a course from Tom Atchison, my cherished mentor, entitled Physician Alignment: Dos and Taboos. My underlying pre-course assumption is that alignment doesn't occur without authentic physician engagement.
I quip that I have amphibian DNA because despite having worked in 43 states, I learned the hard way that each hospital has different people, culture and expectations.
I was told that physicians clammed up when in a room with administrators.
Yet, when I taught leadership development to physicians at a hospital in the South, discussing the role of relationships, communication and team-building, a COO attended and participated in my sessions. We had a session on ways to avoid amygdala hijack, having the mid-brain take over at a time of stress, leading to deteriorating relationships. I mentioned that sometimes 20 to 30 seconds is all that we need to give the frontal cortex the opportunity to overcome the stress response and promote communication and team-building to improve patient care outcomes. For example, we can pause--take a breath, sip water, ask a question, and/or leave the room for a moment.
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