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Carey Thomson: Alleviating the Burden on Clinicians

March 2014 
Carey Thomson, MD

Carey Thomson, MD, and her 
family helped to rebuild Joey’s
Park in Belmont, MA, named for
Joey O’Donnell who died in 1986
with cystic fibrosis.

Carey Thomson, MD, and her family helped to rebuild Joey’s Park in Belmont, MA, named for Joey O’Donnell who died in 1986 with cystic fibrosis.

Carey Thomson, MD, MPH, knows all too well about increasing demands placed on clinicians. At Mount Auburn Hospital, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) teaching hospital where she serves as director of pulmonary consultants and associate director critical care, she oversaw a patient who had been coughing blood and needed a PET scan of a lung mass. Even though the patient’s insurance company had Dr. Thomson’s notes and talked to her nurse, “they required me to go through the voicemail tree,” Dr. Thomson says. “Physicians don’t have that kind of time-it’s become part of a larger burden for physicians and their patients.”

Stressors pile up on a physician’s clinical load, Dr. Thomson says. Just a few of these include insurance company billing and coding obstacles; meaningful use requirements with mandated electronic medical recording; quality- and outcome-based projects assigned to doctors who weren’t trained to design or implement them; and the dramatic increase of Maintenance of Certification (MOC) requirements for the American Board of Internal Medicine and American Board of Pediatrics.

“The flip side to this is that physicians aren’t able to spend as much time face to face with their patients or as much time reading journals and staying up to date in evidence-based care,” Dr. Thomson says. “These issues, taken as a whole, are really what have inspired me to think about what we can do to help our members.”

As chair of the Education Committee, Dr. Thomson has been a driving force behind ATS programs that ease the burdens and demands on clinicians and researchers, including the creation of the ATS Adult Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Core Curriculum, Pediatric Core Curriculum and related MOC Modules at the ATS International Conference, as well as introducing MOC into select postgraduate courses.

A big proponent of implementation of documents to improve patient care, Dr. Thomson serves on a task force assembled by ATS Immediate Past President Monica Kraft, MD. The group is investigating ways to provide MOC around guidelines, developing one-page clinical summaries, and coordinating symposia to showcase recently published guidelines and documents at the IC.

The first guideline to include MOC and a clinical summary will be a joint society Severe Asthma Clinical Practice Guideline, which has been scheduled for release this year in a mobile format. “This process will help take a 150-page guideline from its current cyberspace position and make it one page and useful for those who provide the care,” Dr. Thomson says. “My major emphasis on the Education Committee has been finding ways to help physicians handle the many new requirements coming at them so that they can focus on continuing to deliver superb medical care and produce the best research. This can be done utilizing a many-birds-with-one-stone approach at the ATS: members can attend the IC, learn about the latest evidence in each area, read the clinical summary of a major recently published guideline or document, and complete their MOC requirements.”

An ATS member since 1999, Dr. Thomson also serves on the Board of Directors and Clinicians Advisory Committee. In 2008, she was invited to serve on the Education Committee by Jo Rae Wright, PhD, and was supported by Atul Malhotra, MD, current ATS vice president, who was among her mentors at Harvard. “She’s bright and an enthusiastic team player, and she really took the bull by the horns on the Education Committee,” Dr. Malhotra says.

Dr. Thomson holds a medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School, completed her internship and residency at Stanford University, and completed her fellowships at Harvard Medical School (pulmonary and critical care) and the Channing Laboratory (epidemiology). She also holds a Master of Public Health in Clinical Effectiveness from Harvard School of Public Health, and completed the Harvard Macy Medical Education fellowship.

Dr. Thomson’s research and clinical interests are in asthma, smoking cessation, medical education, faculty development, and quality improvement. She joined Mass General Hospital in 2002, taught extensively at HMS and within Harvard’s residency and fellowship programs, and directed the Education Curriculum for a Gates’ Foundation funded fellowship at Partners in Health that trained U.S. and international physicians to collaborate on epidemiology projects around tuberculosis in Peru and Russia.

She joined the staff at Mount Auburn Hospital in 2005 to help build an ICU division, which has grown to 10 full-time and 11 ancillary physicians covering five inpatient services and four outpatient pulmonary locations in the Boston area. She served as the associate program director of internal medicine residency for three years and is now the director of scholarly activity for the program. She chairs the Ethics Committee at Mt Auburn and is active in policy development around ethical issues and end of life care.

Dr. Thomson may be focused on alleviating the work burden for clinicians, but she’s living proof that the busiest people get things done. Outside of work, she’s highly active in the Belmont, MA community and her church, and her time is consumed by shuttling her three young children, Lily, Andrew, and Brennan, to soccer practice, which she also coaches with her husband, Peter. One of her colleagues at Mount Auburn asked her how she juggles raising children, running a clinical practice, and keeping up her volunteerism. “I said: ‘You may see me now running the ICU service, but you didn’t see me this morning with one of the kid’s throw up in my hair—you just have to know how to juggle your life, build solid relationships, and know where your support lies.”

Life in ATS
ATS Member Since: 1999
Primary Assembly: Critical Care
Secondary Assembly: Clinical Problems, Behavioral Science and Health Services Research

“We need to provide the biggest bang for the buck through our society, and ask ourselves: ‘How can we use education to help ease the burdens and competing demands on our physicians in order to recruit and retain our clinicians and researchers and improve the care of our patients?'”

We’re trying to help with all of these pressures, which can be done by a many-birds-with-one-stone approach.-Carey Thomson
Last Reviewed: September 2017