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Now he teaches others to honor ‘sacred bond’

Marc Berliant M.D. considers training the next generation of physicians both an honor and a professional responsibility.

  Advancing resident education in Rochester is one of Berliant’s chief goals and accomplishments.

  In February 2009 he became the chief of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Division of General Medicine. He also teaches residents in his role as medical director of Strong Internal Medicine, URMC’s resident-faculty practice.

  "During my 27 years in private practice before coming back to the university full time, I truly enjoyed the privilege of taking care of patients," Berliant says. The diagnostic challenge and the development of long-term relationships with patients and their families energized him daily.

  "I would like the physicians of the future that I teach to feel this passion for patient care while they are learning innovative models of health care delivery," Berliant says. "No matter what field of medicine they choose, the age-old sacred bond between patient and physician will sustain them if they are taught early how to appreciate it."

  Berliant, 60, and his wife, Margaret, have four children-a social worker, a teacher, a swim coach and a graduate student in public health-and four grandchildren.

  Berliant is transforming the way residents learn. Prior to his appointment as division chief and medical director two years ago, URMC’s internal medicine clinic served patients of its faculty separately from those of its residents. The faculty and residents cared for distinctly different socio-economic populations.

  Berliant’s first order of business was to merge the separate groups so that residents and faculty worked together. A deeper integration sends the message of equitable care for all, and it gives residents a more balanced educational experience and an appreciation for patient diversity.

  The staff in the reorganized clinic works in small teams comprising an attending physician, nurse practitioner, registered nurse, secretary and resident. The setup more accurately mirrors real-life practices.

  Besides enriching resident education, the new team-based system promotes communication and accountability. It also has dramatically improved efficiency; compared with the prior year, clinic volume increased by at least 25 percent in any given month, URMC officials say.

  Another of Berliant’s initiatives has been to lead one of Strong Memorial’s quality and safety improvement projects called Safe Transitions. The ambitious project’s goal is to facilitate safer, more fluid transitions when patients are discharged from the hospital to continue their care at home or in a skilled-nursing facility.

  Medicare data estimate that as many as one in five patients returns to the hospital within a month of going home. This places financial, emotional and physical strain on families and is a huge cost to the nation, URMC officials say.

  Eager to make a difference for patients and families, Berliant launched this as a pilot program on two hospital units. Now the program is used on more than 16 adult medical/surgical units at Strong.

  Safe Transitions is rewriting the way caregivers interact with and empower patients. For example, the project improves the way patients and caregivers learn about medications. Thorough understanding helps reduce the risk for accidental misuse at home.

  URMC officials anticipate that Safe Transitions, under Berliant’s leadership, will have an impact throughout the Rochester area. Avoiding readmissions will free up needed emergency room space and allow for more consistent care across the city.

  Also as part of Safe Transitions, Berliant is pioneering ways for hospital faculty to share needed medical information with their community primary-care physician counterparts when patients are hospitalized. The goal is to create a more collaborative community health system.

  Berliant takes time to volunteer as well. He believes physicians should deliver the same high-quality health care to all patients, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ability to pay.

  One evening a month, he volunteers as preceptor for the URMC medical students’ Tuesday night clinic at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center. School of Medicine and Dentistry students provide health care at St. Joseph’s, which offers free or low-cost clinic services to people who are unemployed or lack insurance.

  "As a clinician, Marc is what we in medicine call a ‘physician’s physician.’ Other doctors look to him for their own medical care," says Paul Levy M.D., who is Charles A. Dewey professor and chairman of the department of medicine at URMC. It is a testament to their respect for Berliant’s knowledge, diagnostic skills and compassion for his patients, Levy says.            

Lynette Haaland is a freelance writer and a former Rochester Business Journal reporter.

3/18/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail [email protected].

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