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Oct062017

Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad Leadership

Obsequious is defined as “obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree”. Obsequious comes from the Latin root sequi, meaning "to follow”. An Obsequious PhysIcian Executive (OPIE) is more likely to be servile to the hospital administration than a leader of the medical staff. This is not surprising since they are chosen for a “leadership” position not by the physicians they purportedly lead, but by the hospital administration they serve. OPIEs become the administration’s representative to the physicians and not the physicians’ or patients’ representative to the administration. Their job often becomes keeping the medical staff “in-line” rather that putting the success of the medical center first.

My own views have developed over 40 years of observing OPIE behavior in a multitude of medical centers. Although there are many exceptions, OPIEs often share certain characteristics:

  1. Academic failure. OPIEs are usually academic failures. They are the antithesis of the triple threat who excels as a physician, teacher and researcher. In contrast, they excel at nothing and often are obstructionistic of others’ attempts to accomplishment anything meaningful.
  2. Advanced degrees not pertaining to medicine. Frustrated by their lack of success, they seek advancement by alternative routes such as nontraditional career paths or obtaining degrees outside of medicine, e.g., a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). Though they will argue that they are just serving a need or advancing their education, more likely they are seeking the easiest path for advancement, especially if their past accomplishments are best described as “modest”. Beware the unaccomplished physician with a MBA.
  3. Blame others for failure. Not all ideas, even from good people, are successful. Some are bad ideas destined to failure. When an OPIE’s idea fails, they blame others. Worse yet, they lie about a staff in order to place themselves in a good light. This appears to be one of the root causes of the waiting time scandal at the VA. In contrast, a leader accepts responsibility for failure and proposes a new and hopefully better plan.
  4. Bullying. OPIEs often fail to see two sides to any argument and are usually impatient and short-tempered with any who disagree. Rather that attempting to build a consensus, they attempt to bully those who show any resistance.
  5. Retaliation. If bullying fails, OPIEs seek retaliation. This can be through various means-often denial of resources. For example, one chief of staff sat for over a year on a request for a Glidescope (a fiberoptic instrument used for intubation) in the intensive care unit and then was faultfinding when a critical care fellow did not use a Glidescope during an unsuccessful intubation intubation. OPIEs might limit clinic space or personnel but then disparage the physicians when patients are not seen quickly enough to meet an administrative guideline. Lastly, if all else fails they may retaliate by invoking quality assurance. Quality is often ill-defined and it is all too easy in this day of “patient protection” to slander a good physician.

One of the latest buzzwords in healthcare is dyad leadership, a term that refers to physician/administrator teams that jointly lead healthcare organizations (1). A recent editorial touted the success of the partnership between Will Mayo MD and Harry Harwick at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (2). My own positive example comes from Mike Sorrell MD, Charlie Andrews MD, and Bob Baker at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. However, simply putting a physician and administrator together in leadership positions does not guarantee organizational success. In fact, if not done correctly, it leads to confusion, resentment, lack of consistent direction and divided organizational factions.

Based on their Mayo Clinic experience, Smoldt and Cortese list five key success factors they believe bring success to a dyad leadership (2):

  1. Common core values. Perhaps the most important factor in a successful dyad is that members of the physician/administrator team have the same core values and goals. Furthermore, these need to be consistent with the staffs' values and goals. Smoldt and Cortese (2) point out that at Mayo Clinic the core value of “the needs of the patient come first” is deeply imbedded. The staff of an organization will primarily deduce leadership core values from their daily actions. Administrative bonuses or increased reimbursement are not necessarily common core values, and if emphasized over patient care, the dyad is doomed to failure.
  2. Willingness to work together toward a common mission and vision. In a medical center, if the administrative leadership and staff can work together toward a vision, it is more likely to be achieved. If leadership becomes too territorial or engages in OPIE behavior, the ideal of leveraging each other’s strengths will be lost. If the staff perceives that the dyad is emphasizing their personal goals and finances over institutional success, the staff will be unwilling to work with or support the dyad.
  3. Clear and transparent communication with each other and the organization. To gain the most from dyad leadership, each member of the team should leverage and build on the strengths of the other. The more time the individuals spend together as a leadership team and with staff at a medical center, the more frequent and open the communication will be. If over time, communication declines, it is probably a sign that the dyad is not working and is often followed by the OPIE behaviors of bullying, lying and retaliation.
  4. Mutual respect. A team works best if its members operate in an atmosphere of mutual respect. If the dyad team does not share or show mutual respect for each other, mutual respect will likely also be lost among the healthcare delivery team. It is especially important for the dyad to remember that respect must be earned, and a big part of earning respect is to show respect for the views and positions of the staff.
  5. Complementary competencies. No one organizational leader is good at everything that needs to be done in a medical center. Employing a dyad leadership approach can expand the level of competence in the top leadership. For example, in a physician/administer leadership team, it is not unusual for the administrator to have better financial skills than the physician. It goes without saying that physicians and nurses have better medical skills in their own scope of practice than an administrative/physician dyad.

Integrated delivery of care is an absolute for a successful medical center. OPIE behavior dooms the medical center. Establishing a physician/administrator dyad leadership team with the right administrator and physician can be a good step towards success.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Zismer DK, Brueggemann J. Examining the "dyad" as a management model in integrated health systems. Physician Exec. 2010 Jan-Feb;36(1):14-9. [PubMed]
  2. Smoldt RK, Cortese DA. 5 success factors for physician-administrator partnerships. MGMA Connection Plus. September 24, 2015. Available at: http://www.mgma.com/practice-resources/mgma-connection-plus/online-only/2015/september/5-success-factors-for-physician-administrator-partnerships (accessed 10/4/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Beware the obsequious physician executive (OPIE) but embrace dyad leadership. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):151-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc121-17 PDF

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