Published 3/1/2009
Carolyn Rogers

AAOS President Seeks to Improve “Quality of Practice Life” for Members

On Feb. 26, 2009, Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD, assumed the presidency of the Academy with both gratitude and a commitment to enhancing the day-to-day practice life of AAOS members.

With the swearing in of the 77th president, members can expect to see the Academy play a more prominent role in improving what Dr. Zuckerman calls their “quality of practice life.” He plans to accomplish this through a wide range of AAOS practice management initiatives.

“Whatever your practice setting, the challenging healthcare environment is making the practice of orthopaedic surgery more difficult for all of us—particularly in these trying economic times,” he says. “We all can benefit from improved methods to manage our practices.”

A proven leader
Recognized internationally as an expert in both shoulder surgery and hip and knee replacement, Dr. Zuckerman is known among colleagues for his exceptional organization and leadership skills, as well as his playful sense of humor.

He takes office with an impressive record of orthopaedic leadership. At home in New York, Dr. Zuckerman is the Walter A.L. Thompson Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, and chairs the department of orthopaedic surgery at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases (NYUHJD). From 1990-2006, he served as director of the NYUHJD orthopaedic surgery residency program, the largest in the country.

He also spent much of the past two decades serving in various leadership roles at AAOS, including chair of the Surgical Skills Committee and a six-year stint as chair of the Council on Education.

His involvement with the Academy began in 1988, thanks to encouragement from two outstanding orthopaedic surgeon mentors—Clement Sledge, MD, and Victor Frankel, MD.

Following his residency training at the University of Washington in Seattle, Dr. Zuckerman completed a clinical and research fellowship at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “One of the biggest influences during my fellowship, and in my career, was Dr. Sledge—a former AAOS president,” Dr. Zuckerman recalls. “He had just entered the Academy’s presidential line at the time, so I saw firsthand what it was like to be involved.”

Changes, challenges, solutions
When he was invited to join the AAOS presidential line a few years back, Dr. Zuckerman had been out of an AAOS leadership position for only 2 years. But he soon realized just how much the Academy had changed in that short time—“new programs, new issues, reordered priorities—not in just one or two areas, but in all of our key areas of education, advocacy, research, and communication,” he recalls.

As president he plans to continue with that tradition of dynamic change.

“The AAOS is a vital and innovative organization that responds quickly to any challenges and issues that arise,” he says. In recent years, “We’ve responded to the Department of Justice issues and the effect on orthopaedic funding for research education and graduate medical education as well as diversity in orthopaedics, orthopaedic unity, and other issues.”

Today the Academy faces continuing challenges related to emergency care and on-call coverage, the growing number of uninsured patients, and the combined impact these problems have on members’ practices and lives.

“No one person or group can solve these problems,” he says. “Our emphasis is on providing our members with the support and the necessary resources to achieve workable solutions in their own communities.”

Surgeons will need to work with other members of the medical community, with hospitals, and even with insurance companies to find successful resolutions, he says.

“It’s the role of the president and the senior leadership to keep striving for progress in all these areas and to respond to the new challenges that inevitably crop up,” he adds.

Keeping ‘Ship AAOS’ on course
As president, Dr. Zuckerman envisions himself at the helm of “Ship AAOS.”

“My responsibility is to steer our ship in the right direction,” he explains, making sure it doesn’t drift off-course while “expanding and improving on the Academy’s important ongoing initiatives.”

Dr. Zuckerman takes his responsibility as president seriously. “Balancing the needs, issues, and concerns of our members is of utmost importance to me,” he says.

Although education is the Academy’s primary mission, he believes that mission has to be integrated with member needs. “And our members realize that practice management is an important—and often overlooked—aspect of their education.”

(From left) William L. Healy, MD; Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD; Dale Reigle, CPHIT, MD, president of the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives; and Thomas C. Barber, MD, discuss practice management initiatives.

One of the reasons Dr. Zuckerman chose to focus on practice management is because it affects so many AAOS members. “Whether an orthopaedic surgeon is in an academic setting, a solo practice, or a large multispecialty group, managing a practice is the ‘tie that binds’ all of us,” he says. “Reducing expenses, increasing revenues, improving productivity, and responding to new requirements by insurers and regulators are issues that every practice faces.”

Practice management “in the trenches”
In recent surveys of the fellowship, three of four AAOS members ex­pressed a need for greater practice management knowledge and skills.

“The good news is that the Academy has responded by allocating significant resources to the development of our practice management program,” Dr. Zuckerman reports. “Our goal is to establish the AAOS as the ‘go to’ resource for our members for orthopaedic practice management information and assistance.”

Some of those resources include the Practice Management Committee (PMC), chaired by Stephen P. Makk, MD, MBA, and the growing practice management staff, which now includes four full-time employees.

The following practice management programs are a direct result of efforts by the PMC and staff:

  • An online practice management center (www.aaos.org/pracman) featuring hundreds of original articles and monographs on a broad range of topics, as well as an advice center; discussion forums, and more
  • An average of 8 pages in every issue of AAOS Now devoted to practice management topics
  • One-on-one practice management support services for members
  • Practice Management Consults—an audio series featuring interviews with physicians, practice executives, advisors, and expert consultants who provide practical advice and clarity on key practice management topics
  • A new Practice Management reSOURCE Directory—an online roster of firms that provide orthopaedic practice management expertise. Each company listed has been endorsed by at least three AAOS fellows.

In addition, more than 1,250 Academy members have attended AAOS continuing medical education courses on practice management in the past four years.

The Academy has also produced a practice management self-assessment examination, and primers on Electronic Medical Records (EMR), Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS), and Effective Personnel Management to “help members incorporate these modalities into their practices,” Dr. Zuckerman explains. The primers can be downloaded at no charge.

Another PMC initiative is the highly successful AAOS group purchasing program, now celebrating its second anniversary. The program has enabled more than 290 practices to save substantially on office and medical supplies.

“The savings go directly to your bottom line,” Dr. Zuckerman says.

More help on the horizon
PMC initiatives now in development focus on educating residents about practice management, partnering with third parties to implement cost-saving initiatives, and helping members make informed decisions about implementing new technology.

Some of these initiatives include:

  • Hands-on technology courses to help members implement and use technologies such as EMR and PACS in their offices
  • Additional affinity programs that will provide members with options for reduced-rate life and disability insurance.
  • Mini-practice management courses that will be offered on the evening before surgical skills courses
  • A multimedia program to help orthopaedists navigate their careers from initial practice selection to retirement planning and beyond

“Consider the potential,” Dr. Zuckerman says. “If a practice is able to improve its revenue and expense ratio by only 1 percent, those funds could help enhance how we care for our patients, our families, and our other passions.”

Family man, Ben Casey fan
Without a doubt, Dr. Zuckerman’s greatest passion outside of orthopaedics is his wife and two sons. “My life has always revolved around my family,” he says.

He and his wife, Janet, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, have been married for 25 years. They have two sons—Scott, 22, who is a first-year medical student at Vanderbilt University, and Matthew, 19, who is a sophomore at Yale majoring in architecture.

Dr. Zuckerman was the son of a certified public accountant and a homemaker/part-time bookkeeper. Growing up on Long Island in Hicksville, N.Y., his interest in medicine wasn’t sparked by a close relative, or even a local doctor.

Rather, young Joe discovered his life’s calling in front of the family television set. At the age of 10, he became enthralled with the weekly trials and tribulations of a TV doctor named Ben Casey.

Although the hard-nosed Dr. Casey of the eponymous 1960s show “certainly isn’t the role model we as doctors want to emulate in 2009,” Dr. Zuckerman admits, he still gives his childhood role model credit for “his total dedication to doing the best he could for his patients.”

Dr. Zuckerman’s career choice came into even greater focus during his teenage years. While playing high school basketball, he sustained several injuries that introduced him to the wonderful world of orthopaedics and piqued a life-long fascination with the musculoskeletal system.

When asked what advice he would give his sons about choosing a career, Dr. Zuckerman doesn’t hesitate. He has told both of his sons that it’s most important to pick a life’s work where “you will be as happy to go to work every day as I am.”

Carolyn Rogers is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at rogers@aaos.org

Get to know Joe
How much do you know about the new AAOS President? Here are some fast facts on Joseph D. Zuckerman, MD. Among other accomplishments, he:

  • Earned his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Authored or co-edited 14 orthopaedic textbooks and more than 260 articles
  • Studied medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee
  • Served as president of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons in 2003-2004
  • Was recognized in 2004 as “Alumnus of the Year” by the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation in 2005
  • Maintains an active clinical practice specializing in shoulder surgery and hip and knee replacements, performing more than 250 surgical procedures each year
  • Established the Hip Fracture Research Group at HJD in 1986, which has significantly improved the understanding of recovery from hip fractures in the elderly
  • Won the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) Clinical Research Award in 2002
  • Was honored as “Teacher of the Year” by the NYUHJD orthopaedic residents on five separate occasions