Who runs a hospital better, a physician or a businessperson? And which is better for patient safety and healthy outcomes?
As reported in the New York Times, the conventional wisdom that doctors should focus on patient care and managers should run the infrastructure was challenged by a study in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Of the nearly 6,500 hospitals in the U.S., only 235 are run by physician administrators.
In a review of 300 top-ranked U.S. hospitals specializing in a variety of disorders, “overall hospital quality scores were about 25% higher when doctors ran the hospital, compared with other hospitals,” The Times said. “For cancer care, doctor-run hospitals posted scores 33% higher.
Study author Dr. Amanda Goodall said the finding was consistent with corollary research showing that research universities perform better when led by outstanding scholars and that basketball teams perform better when led by former top players.
Goodall said the results may reflect the fact that doctors truly understand “the core business of health. … M.D. CEOs are more likely to prioritize patients because patient care is at the heart of their education and working life as a physician. When it comes to making hard budgetary decisions or rationing choices, M.D. CEOs may be able to make more informed decisions.”
The study results, Goodall pointed out, show only an association between high hospital scores and doctor CEOs; they do not prove that doctors make better leaders. Maybe top hospitals are more likely to seek out doctor leaders; maybe top doctor managers seek out the best hospitals.
Bottom line: The best hospitals seem to choose physician executives, and lower-ranked hospitals usually have managers with a business or administrative background.
That’s something for patients to consider if they have a choice of hospital facilities.