Almost 50 years after he began his medical training at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Richard Albert, MD has returned to CU, with a full-time appointment in the Department of Medicine Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine and a leadership role as the department’s Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs.
Albert graduated from the CU School of Medicine in 1971, and completed the first two years of residency training here before transferring to the University of Washington to complete his residency. After a fellowship in CU’s top-ranked pulmonary program, Albert returned to the University of Washington, where he remained until becoming Chief of Medicine at Denver Health in 1997.
“One of the reasons I went to Denver Health is that it was a remarkable opportunity to build a department,” says Albert. “At that time Denver Health wasn’t known for research at all, and my model for a public academic hospital was Harborview, where the large majority of the faculty were doing research. There were a lot of open positions in the department at Denver Health, and I saw an opportunity to fill them with people who were research-oriented. When I left, about 50% of the subspecialists had external research funding.” Overall, the Denver Health Department of Medicine grew from around 15 to over 80 physicians during Albert’s tenure. A hospital medicine program initiated during this time grew from an initial 5 faculty members to over 40. Albert also oversaw the creation of new programs in inpatient/outpatient palliative care and interventional cardiology, among others.
Albert retired from Denver Health in September 2015 and took up his duties as vice chair for clinical affairs in the CU Department of Medicine in that same month. Among the first priorities he was tasked with by DOM Chair David Schwartz, MD was to review and help organize the department’s teaching and non-teaching services, assess personnel needs, and assist with the department’s annual request for support from University of Colorado Hospital.
Albert has also been asked to expand the department’s physician scientist inpatient teaching service. “It’s very much about maintaining an academic focus in academic medicine, and stimulating residents’ interest in academic research,” says Albert.
Additionally, Albert will supervise the creation of care ‘dyads’ for inpatient/outpatient services at UCH - clinicians coupled with non-clinician administrators to monitor productivity, efficiency, quality and safety. This new program will be piloted in a few of the department’s subspecialty clinics and inpatient services before deploying across the hospital. “It’s terrific that the hospital is encouraging physicians involved in providing care to also have a role in overseeing that care,” says Albert.
Looking forward, Albert says his role, in conjunction with DOM vice chair for quality Heidi Wald, MD, will focus on helping the department’s faculty delivery quality clinical care while making space for academics, especially basic and clinical research. “For clinicians, the problem is, why would they do their work here when they can make more money in private practice? A lot of the focus has been on having clinicians spend time teaching, and that’s good, we need clinical teachers. But the ability to expand teaching opportunities is limited. The ability to expand research is unlimited.”
Albert’s own decades-long research program has focused on laboratory and clinical studies targeting the pathophysiology and treatment of ARDS, and clinical trials aimed at trying to reduce and treat acute exacerbations of COPD.
What would Albert most like to see changed, in how patients receive care?
“In my own critical-care practice I’m used to rounding on patients with the residents, the patient’s nurse, the pharmacist, the respiratory therapist, the social worker, every day. I tried to initiate that type of rounding system for the floor patients at Denver Health, and found that it was very difficult to do, but finding a way to have the entire team involved on a daily basis, at the same time, in the patient’s room, would be ideal.”
“In the outpatient arena, I don’t know. I haven’t done outpatient medicine for a long time, but my sense is that it’s a similar situation, a need for the same team-based approach to patient care that is practiced in our primary care clinics. Also, if I were a patient I would like to see my doctor right away, not wait two months. I think we should be able to develop some kind of system where patients can see their doctors within a few days, although how that fits with an academic career is a problem. I have a lot to learn about subspecialty outpatient clinics,” Albert concluded.