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What is the role of a Physician in Healthcare Systems?

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Physicians hold a variety of direct and indirect roles within the health care system. Read this lesson to learn more about specific roles and responsibilities of the constantly changing and growing physician role.

In Need of Doctors

As legislation changes and continues to promote healthcare access for more people, Bob, a senior director for a large health care network, must manage quality and cost of care with an appropriate number of physicians. Physicians, a group of healthcare providers responsible for the management and maintenance of care for patients across the continuum of care in both the inpatient as well as outpatient settings. Bob prepares to speak to a group of physicians new to the network. To better connect with the oncoming physicians, Bob considers their distinct roles across the network.

Inpatient Setting

As part of a healthcare system, a collaboration and coordination between health care resources, healthcare professionals work in many different facilities in a variety of roles. Bob's inpatient health care facility is comprised of a main hospital with three smaller satellite sites. These individual hospitals house beds for overnight patient stays to treat acute or severe conditions. Many of the new inpatient physicians will work in this area, overseeing the medical management of diseases through the following responsibilities:

  • Ordering of diagnostic testing (X-rays, CT scans, blood testing) to diagnose
  • Medication management
  • Adjustment of treatment plan
  • Assessment for readiness of discharge

While patients require a team of individuals to help manage their overall care, physicians are often considered to be the lead on the team. This role is very patient-focused and requires frequent bedside visits and attention. Many decisions regarding care cannot be made without the direction or order of a physician.

Outpatient Setting

Bob's network of outpatient facilities consists of primary care practices or doctor's offices, diagnostic care centers, and intensive outpatient treatment programs. Similarly to the inpatient setting, physicians working in Bob's outpatient facilities carry many of the same general roles and responsibilities on the care team. The biggest difference between inpatient and outpatient physician work is the level of acuity, or severity, of disease. Physicians operating in the outpatient setting typically help to manage long-term chronic conditions over extended periods of time, along with regular health maintenance. Acute conditions can be life-threatening, and typically require closer observation and inpatient care.

The Bigger Picture

Similarly to how physicians are the natural leaders of the health care team, Bob understands the amount of influence the physician role bears. Knowing this, he explains several opportunities that the new group of physician hires can take advantage of to greatly impact the health of the community and fellow man.

Leadership and Management

Depending on leadership and experience, some physicians opt for administrative roles. Some of these roles in Bob's health network include oversight and development of the following departments:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Ethics
  • Technology
  • Documentation
  • Education

While these physicians may have little to no patient contact, their medical experiences and foresight may guide positive changes that indirectly impact patient care.

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