John Conlon, DO Uses Osteopathic
Principles to Achieve Measured Results
Brings Decades of Experience with a Whole-Person Approach to his New Position
By: Andrew P. Peck

dr-conlon-280highIncreased attention to patient satisfaction through the HCAHPS system has brought focus to the overall experience provided by healthcare providers. For institutions to drive up these crucial metrics, effective leadership and teamwork are a necessity. John Conlon, DO, FACOEP, CPE has utilized a philosophy of personal connection with patients to achieve measured results at multiple hospitals.

Dr. Conlon was named Chief Medical Officer at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts last month after serving as Vice President of Medical Affairs at Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel, New York. At Putnam he oversaw decreases in length of stay and readmission rates while elevating the hospital’s HCAHPS scores into to the top 10% in the state. Dr. Conlon, who served for 20 years as a commander in the United States Naval Reserve spoke with about the ways in which his lifelong adherence to a whole-person treatment philosophy helped his organizations attain these goals.

In the very beginning why did you decide to practice medicine?
My dad was a DO, so I saw up close how the practice of osteopathic medicine could really impact the quality of his patients’ lives. When I was as young as four years old, I would carry his black bag and go on house calls with him. There was a special relationship he had with his patients. Not only did he care about his patients; they also cared about him. It was not uncommon for patients to call during the family dinner, middle of the night, or weekends. He was always there for his patients.

And why Osteopathic Medicine?
Having the experience of accompanying my dad and seeing how he practiced medicine was inspiring to me. It taught me that osteopathic medicine is not just a science, but also an art.

For my specialty, osteopathic medicine encompasses all aspects of emergency medicine. Function is dependent on structure.

Two real-life examples come to mind. When a respiratory patient arrived not breathing, we were able to apply osteopathic manipulative techniques to the thoracic structures to ease the work of breathing and could document this through an increase in both peak flows and pulse ox readings.

Another time, I remember a 16-year-old male who came into the emergency department with a significant headache and nausea. After a complete history and physical, I was able to manipulate his cervical spine and musculature and significantly ease his discomfort and get rid of his nausea. When I left the treatment room, the nurses asked if I was ready to perform a lumbar puncture to rule out meningitis. When I said he did not need it, they were greatly surprised to see him discharged with a smile on his face, feeling greatly improved.

At Putnam Hospital you were responsible for decreasing length of stay and readmission rates, how does a whole person approach to practicing medicine factor into those objectives?
Decreasing length of stay and readmissions requires one to look at the entire picture, not just the specific disease entity. Of course, good medical care goes without saying; however, equally important are patient education, social structure and good communication with the primary care providers outside of the hospital. Osteopathic medicine encompasses the whole picture. When this is practiced, good metrics follow.

At Putnam, your hospital was ranked in the top 10% of NY institutions for HCAHPS patient satisfaction scores, how were you and your colleagues able to accomplish those levels?
Achieving good HCAHPS is a team sport. It means the team has a goal to drive to a focused plan to get there. It also means measuring your efforts and being open to change the plan if a specific item is not working. At Putnam, we broke down the HCAHPS process into pieces and focused on specific areas. One of the major areas all hospitals are struggling in is “quietness.” We put a great deal of effort into that area, including signage, quiet times during the day where lights were dimmed, but more importantly, empowering people to speak up and address the issue.

You’ve served as a Naval Commander for over 20 years. How has your military experience influenced your leadership style?
My military service was invaluable. It taught me how to execute orders and take responsibility for my actions.

You’re now practicing medicine in Massachusetts after many years in New York. Are you excited about the move to a new state? Why?
This was not only a great opportunity to work at a successful community hospital that’s part of an innovative health care system [Steward Health Care], but also to be near our youngest son, who had been recruited to play goalie for a high school hockey team. Also, we’re excited to move to southern New England. The New England coast is a true jewel that my family has always loved.

Is there anything I did not ask about that you’d like to discuss? Anything at all?
It’s a privilege to be working at a hospital with such a strong tradition of caring for the community. It’s also exciting to be part of Steward Health Care. Steward’s investments in its community hospitals, its forward-thinking approach to health care delivery, and its national recognition as one of the country’s top ACOs have really moved the bar on what it means to be a community hospital. I’m honored to be able to contribute to this.