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Hospital names doctor to executive post that bridges gap between physicians and administrators
Dr. James Bailey, recently named as Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s first chief medical officer, works in his office with his assistant Debi Shiflett. - photo by Tom Reed


Northeast Georgia Medical Center chief operating officer Carol Burrell explains why it’s important for Dr. Bailey to continuing practicing as a physician
In some hospitals, there’s an "us versus them" relationship between administrators and doctors.

Officials at Northeast Georgia Medical Center didn’t want that to happen here, so they’ve created a new position: chief medical officer.

"I will be in the middle," said Dr. James Bailey, who started in the job Jan. 2. "I will be representing the needs, desires and wishes of the medical staff, but I also represent the administration. Hopefully, I can communicate with both sides."

This new position is different from the chief of the medical staff, who is elected each year by the doctors. As CMO, Bailey works at the highest level of the organization.

"He is considered part of senior management, one of only four people who reports directly to our CEO, Jim Gardner," said Carol Burrell, chief operating officer of the medical center.

She said the hospital’s leaders recognized that something was missing at the top level of management.

"We realized that we did not have a physician representative sitting at the table, and it is very important to have that perspective," Burrell said.

But Bailey doesn’t claim to be a policy wonk.

"I wasn’t offered this job because I was a super administrator," he said. "I was offered this job because I was a doctor."

And he will continue to work as a physician. "It’s important that doctors see me in the hospital sometimes at 2 a.m., dealing with sick patients," he said.

Burrell said the double-career model was included in the job description. "The idea of continuing to practice as a physician came from the medical staff," she said.

Bailey, 60, draws on a long and varied medical background. A native of North Carolina, he first earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and spent time in academia and research before deciding to go to medical school.

He came to Emory to serve his residency and ended up staying for 20 years, starting as a cardiac anesthesiologist and later also becoming an intensivist, a specialist who monitors patients in the ICU.

Bailey left Emory in 2002 to help start the open-heart surgery program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, which is now ranked No. 1 in the state.

He still plans to work as a cardiac anesthesiologist one day a week, and as an intensivist two days per week plus one weekend each month. He is also medical director of the intensive-care unit.

"I haven’t quit my ‘day job,’" he said. "What I can do for the hospital (administration) is to help them understand what’s happening in the ICU, in the operating rooms, in the other clinical areas. There are 400-odd physicians on the medical staff, so communication is pretty important."

Bailey estimates it will take him three to six months to familiarize himself with all aspects of the new job.

"I’ve tried to sit down with most of the people in administration, asking, ‘How do you spend your time? What are your responsibilities?’" he said. "Then I plan to sit down with other medical departments (outside his own specialties)."

Bailey anticipates that the job will have "a proactive side and a reactive side."

"Medicine is always in a state of flux," he said. "One area where I think there’s potential for pretty exciting improvements is the use of information technology. I see a future where we (doctors) might all have iPhones and we can look at test results anywhere we happen to be."

One of his duties will be to evaluate which changes are worth investing in. Before the hospital buys an expensive piece of equipment, he can offer administrators scientific evidence on whether it’s effective.

"I’ve already had people coming to me to talk about new technologies they’d like us to bring to the hospital," he said. "As a physician, I can take a step back and look at the clinical facts."

Bailey said he does worry about being caught in the middle if relationships between doctors and administrators turn sour.

"I thought long and hard before taking this job," he said. "But I never would have dreamed of accepting it if I didn’t feel the leadership here is genuinely committed to improving things."

Burrell said the administration felt Bailey was the ideal person for the job.

"He is amazing," she said. "He is one of the hardest-working individuals. He’s very passionate about the care of his patients. That’s what drives him."

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