Academic Health Center faces restructuring, reform

By MaryCate Most

With the state of health care rapidly evolving in the U.S., the University has decided to analyze its own health care system. This analysis led the University to restructure the Academic Health Center by changing senior positions within the center and by enforcing regulations set by the Compliance Program at the University.

“A major difference with the University-based hospital is the integration of the educational mission with the clinical mission,” said Avijit Ghosh, professor of Business and senior adviser to President Robert Easter. “What this proposed initiative does is strengthen the connection of these missions.”

The Board of Trustees voted at its Nov. 14 meeting at the University’s Springfield campus to eliminate the position of vice president for Health Affairs and replace it with the position vice chancellor for Health Affairs, based on a recommendation from Easter.

Under this new plan, the vice chancellor of Health Affairs will report to Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares of the Chicago campus. This would also mean that the heads of the clinical care units and the deans of health science colleges at the University would report to the vice chancellor for Health Affairs, Ghosh said.

Increased cooperation between the University system’s hospitals, clinics and health science colleges would benefit each party, he said.

“By aligning the clinical and educational missions, the (Academic) Health Center can get better leverage with benefits of research and teaching with advanced medical care and address disparity of health outcomes,” Ghosh said. “At the same time, it will benefit the health sciences colleges with better integration of clinical practice into training.”

This new organization will keep the day-to-day management of the clinical and educational facilities separate but would allow them more interaction on a broader scale, Ghosh said.

“Overall, the proposed structure will allow more nimble organizational decision-making,” he said.

Planning for this new system began last July, when Easter, Ghosh and Jerry Bauman, interim vice president for Health Affairs at the Chicago campus, met with health sciences colleges deans and the executive committee of the senate. They also held a town hall meeting to discuss the future of health sciences under the new system.

“We’ve had quite a large conversation,” Easter said. “We are committed to those individual conversations.”

The new plan is set to be completely laid out before the trustees at their next meeting on March 6, Ghosh said.

“We still have a lot of work to do in putting this together,” Ghosh said. “And there is a lot of work to do with faculty talking about how we will actually incorporate and implement this.”

The University Healthcare System Committee also addressed changes made to the Compliance Program within the University.

The program is a federal initiative made to prevent billing fraud and ensure personal health information security, said William Chamberlin, Compliance representative and director of the Institute for Patient Safety Excellence at the Chicago campus.

“The Compliance plan represents a sorely needed overhaul that is vital for the integrity of the medical enterprise,” Chamberlin said. “It really needs to be a comprehensive program that helps employees conduct operations ethically, legally and according to regulations.”

Chamberlin said the Compliance Program would start to align regulations at the University with those at the federal and state levels. This would include more frequent employee screening processes and more documentation of interactions between doctors and patients, he said.

“The federal government takes this really seriously,” Chamberlin said. “Bills are driven by not only what you are doing for a patient, but what you document you are doing for a patient. There are big changes coming down the pipe that relate to that — big changes in the organizational systems that the state government, or federal government, use for diagnosis.”

To improve the strength of Compliance, the University will develop more authority positions within the program and a more “aggressive” staff, Chamberlin said.

Compliance officials at the University will also be responsible for monitoring the progress within the medical system and will conduct audits.

Some trustees were concerned that Compliance enforcements would force physicians and nurses to spend a larger percentage of time than they already do working on paperwork and documentation rather than with the patient, Board of Trustees chairman Christopher Kennedy said.

“How will we work to develop a balance between Compliance and compassion?” Kennedy asked Chamberlin. “The last time I’ve seen a medical professional, they’ve spent the whole time looking at a laptop, rather than having a full-on interview. It’s very off-putting from a patient perspective.”

Chamberlin will address some of the ways in which Compliance will balance both increased demands for documentation with quality doctor-patient relationships at a future board meeting.

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected]