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Moving the Emory Clinic into the space age

By Sylvia Wrobel | Emory Health | Dec. 3, 2012

Emory Clinic CEO Doug Morris

Emory Clinic CEO Doug Morris leads a team of faculty, administrators, and staff who have an overarching goal—quality of care for patients and families. How do they manage that? Through specially designed processes.

Gregory Esper, Sandra Fields, and Michele Shepherd-Tigner
Gregory Esper, Sandra Fields, and Michele Shepherd-Tigner work together in a new neurology clinic program that combines related disciplines to figure out and solve patient problems.
Martha Smith with patient
“I may not be in the center of the Clifton Road huddle, but I’m very much part of the Emory Clinic, and my patients get all the benefits,” says Martha Smith, whose Dublin office is 150 miles distant from Emory’s main campus.
Penny Castellano
Penny Castellano wears two hats at the Emory Clinic: chief medical officer for clinical operations and chief quality officer. She continuously monitors day-to-day processes that improve the patient experience.
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With coaching from the Afterburner group, Emory's team learned to approach the care of patients like fighter pilots who "execute missions in the most hostile environments on earth."

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The Emory Clinic

When cardiologist Doug Morris was named CEO of the Emory Clinic two years ago, he told colleagues that to respond successfully to the transformations occurring in medicine, "we must mimic the space industry and other modern industries that combine high risk and complexity." That means, he continued, moving from the heroic, test pilot model of a reputational physician (think Chuck Yeager in a white coat) to one of an astronaut, not only equally talented and dedicated to patients but also a team player who can develop and adhere to medical protocols.

Those protocols are important because they can improve consistency of care, eliminate errors and lower costs.

That's where the fighter pilots come in. The Emory Transplant Center first brought the Afterburner, Inc. consulting team on board for help in fine-tuning reliability of performance and adherence to protocols. Transplantation and subsequent lifelong therapy to prevent transplant rejection depend on complex treatment plans involving a team of surgeons, physicians, nurses and other clinicians. In the transplant world, there is no time for delays, no room for mavericks, no excuse for not collecting and using data for continuous improvement.

With coaching from the Afterburner group, Emory's team learned to approach the care of patients like fighter pilots who "execute missions in the most hostile environments on earth." They followed a detailed cycle of planning, training, briefing, executing and debriefing (What went right? What could have gone better?) and then revamped plans accordingly, re-training and beginning the cycle all over again. Processes are continually monitored, always in evolution, better today than yesterday, not yet as good as tomorrow.

After seeing the success of the "flawless execution" technique in transplant surgery, the transplant section's leadership began applying the method to myriad, day-to-day operating procedures throughout the patient enterprise — answering phones, sending lab results to patients and handling billing and dozens of other nitty-gritty details that can make a big difference in a patient's experience.

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