In Rita Schwab, We Trust

Nicholas Genes, MD, PhD


November 03, 2006

Before a surgeon's scalpel cuts open a patient, before a generalist signs a prescription, someone like Rita Schwab gets involved. She's a Medical Staff Service Professional and, simply put, MSSPs make the hospital run by verifying the credentials of its physicians and staff. Jobs like Schwab's are increasingly gaining prominence, in part due to today's risk-averse, more transparent hospital administrations, but also in part due to Web sites like MSSPnexus, Schwab's effort to reach out to colleagues and those who'd like to learn more about her role.

Dr. Genes: I hadn't heard of the term "MSSP" until your site burst onto the scene 2 years ago. What is it exactly that you do?

Rita Schwab: I worked in healthcare for a number of years myself before I realized that there was a profession that specialized in medical staff administration, including credentials verification, privilege delineation, meeting management, and a variety of other duties. The profession has changed dramatically in the 30 years since the National Association Medical Staff Services was established. Today's Medical Staff Affairs office works closely with both administrative and medical leadership. Our work requires comprehensive knowledge of physician and allied health credentialing and privileging, state and federal healthcare law, accreditation standards, and performance-improvement principles. It also requires the ability to effectively communicate and help enforce what can often be less than popular rules and standards.

By the way, since we can actually quote citations from Bylaws, Federal Regs, and the Revised Code, we're really fun at parties.

Bottom line: Healthcare is better and safer, thanks to our influence. We partner with medical and administrative leadership to protect patients from unskilled, impaired, or -- in the worst case -- fraudulent providers. If you unexpectedly find yourself hospitalized far from home, you can have confidence that one or more of my colleagues have worked to assure that the doctor you see is licensed, credentialed, and deemed competent.

I have jokingly said that the mission of the medical staff office is to keep 60 Minutes and 20/20 away from the door. A bit of humor, but the underlying principle is valid. "Patient Safety Begins Here" is a slogan of our national association. And just like others in healthcare, we take that trust seriously.

Rita Schwab at MSSPnexus hosts Grand Rounds
November 7, 2006

Dr. Genes: Reviewing your posts, I see that you've held other positions in hospitals -- sometimes very close to the frontlines (in the emergency department) where you're closely interacting with patients. Is that something you miss?

Rita Schwab: I've worked in various roles, most of them in hospital settings, including more than 3 years in an emergency department, where I worked with some amazingly talented people. I greatly admire not just the clinical expertise that the setting requires, but also the ability to treat people who are often not at their best with dignity and respect. Sometimes I do miss that frontline interaction with patients, but I truly believe in the value of the more administrative role I have now as well.

Dr. Genes: Some of your posts reflect your familiarity with science fiction. Do you have any sci-fi fantasies whereby your job will be miraculously simplified (doctors will swipe a card to gain privileges, for instance)?

Rita Schwab: A swipe-card of verified credentials has long been on the wish-list for most MSSPs. In our case, law and standards rather than technology are the greatest stumbling blocks to that goal. It will be interesting to see whether the National Disaster Medical System Medical Professional Credentials System of Records (and isn't that quite the name!), recently announced in the Federal Register by US Homeland Security, will have an impact on the future technology of medical credentialing in this country.

Dr. Genes: It will also be interesting to see Rita Schwab host Grand Rounds, the weekly collection of the best in online medical writing (the link to Grand Rounds goes live on November 7, 2006). In another example of the Web mimicking real life, Schwab will be vetting and organizing submissions from doctors, nurses, students, and other healthcare professionals to compile an edition of Grand Rounds that is read by a wide audience.

In previous editions of Grand Rounds, hosts have illuminated other underrecognized professions within healthcare, such as the life of a transplant coordinator, chronicled at Donorcycle. Recently, the blogger behind that site, TC, highlighted some online tools about organ allocation and came up with another good way of describing her job (it involved Superman and the Grim Reaper, among others).

Another behind-the-scenes player in healthcare is the medical meeting planner -- someone who ensures that CME courses, whether taught in convention centers or online, effectively keep doctors up to date. One such planner with a Web presence is Sue Pelletier, who publishes Daily Capsules, a medical meetings blog. This month she attended a conference in Baltimore on CME provider and industry collaboration, and has some intriguing posts on the topic of commercial influence in continuing medical education.

Keep tuning in to Grand Rounds each week to see more from every facet of the diverse healthcare industry.


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