Every year on March 30, we honor physicians for the service they provide to patients and their communities. To celebrate, Dr. Christopher Ott, HCA Physician Services Group’s chief medical officer, shares his healthcare career journey and experience growing and thriving in a complex and evolving industry.
Chris welcomes change and new perspectives. In fact, it’s the very reason he became a physician instead of practicing law or educating children, as his parents did. Growing up, Chris was interested in the careers of physicians because of their unconventional schedules, ever changing work days, and involvement in an expansive industry. Physicians’ lives were mysterious.
“What drove me to go to medical school was the possibility of what a long and varied career in medicine could be,” Chris said. “I saw doctors who were oncologists, pediatricians, hospital administrators, medical school deans and insurance company medical directors. I liked the broad and varied opportunities that a career in medicine offered.”
Chris graduated from Marquette University with a degree in history, and went on to earn his doctorate in medicine from the Medical College of Wisconsin. He then moved to Denver in 1997 to complete a four-year emergency medicine residency at Denver Health and the University of Colorado.
Post-residency, Chris held a variety of leadership of roles. And, it was experiencing healthcare is such a myriad of ways that helped him uncover a passion for solving problems — large and small — for patients, physicians, facilities, and systems.
Chris began his career in emergency medicine during a time when the specialty was coming into its own. There were historical and ongoing tensions between emergency medicine physicians, emergency departments and incumbent hospital-based medical and surgical physicians. Over the past two decades though, emergency departments have grown to be the front door to many hospitals and collaboration between physicians became even more vital to ensuring positive patient experiences and good patient outcomes.
“It was an interesting time to get into emergency medicine because we were working through some very contentious turf battles with our peers,” said Chris. “This defined my early career because I had to learn how to negotiate with many different players in order to do what was best for patients.”
During his time as a practicing physician, Chris also served as the medical director for Air Ambulance Specialists, Inc. which became AMR Air, Inc., an international fixed-wing air medical transport company based in Englewood, Colorado. His team of nurses, respiratory therapists and physicians cared for patients on interstate and international flights. This role helped him to hone his clinical expertise in flight medicine and develop a deep subject matter expertise in complex logistical operations, charting, billing, accreditation, and in navigating the complexities of international medical systems.
“I talked to neurosurgeons in Uruguay, trauma surgeons in Panama, ICU docs in the Philippines, so I got a broader perspective of how similar medicine is around the world, but also how limited other countries are by their available resources and technology,” Chris said. “The doctors knew what the right thing to do was, they often just didn’t have the resources or access to specialists to achieve the outcomes that patients needed.”
It was this drive for a broader industry and clinical perspective that kept Chris’ attention for 12 years. He said, “It was a different story every time we had a meeting, every time there was a call it was another problem to solve. During my tenure with the air ambulance company, we tackled everything from ground crew issues in Mexico to the Chinese government quarantining one of our planes.”
In 2009, Chris took on the responsibility of the emergency department medical directorship at St. Anthony Hospital, the busiest Level I Trauma Center in Colorado.
“Emergency medicine and the actions taken in the emergency department touch nearly every operational and clinical area of a hospital; facility and department throughput, ancillary service performance, peer review, credentialing, utilization management and most importantly physician relationships. As medical director, I spent considerable time liaising with hundreds of physicians and operational leaders to ensure that we were consistently providing exceptional care,” Chris said. From his role as the medical director of the emergency department he rose to become the facility chief medical officer in 2012 and then the Centura Health Mountain and North Denver Operating Group chief medical officer in 2014.
In 2015, he became the chief medical officer for HCA Physician Services Group and now serves as the voice for thousands of physicians across the nation. He spends his days working to ensure that HCA Physician Services Group’s more than 1,000 practices, 100+ urgent care centers and 240+ graduate medical education programs maintain optimum quality, efficiency and clinical integrity. He partners with leaders from across HCA Healthcare to ensure that patients are kept at the center of the care team and that the needs of those care teams aren’t forgotten.
“Fundamentally, the most important aspect of our business is the physician-patient relationship. Everything else around that relationship is tandem to it,” Chris said. “If something is wrong in the operational areas that affects the physician-patient relationship, then we have an obligation to fix it. And so, I am one of the many dedicated people at PSG who champion the needs of our physicians, providers and clinical teams for the benefit of our patients.”
The physician-patient relationship continues to be central to HCA’s culture. According to Chris, most physicians want an efficient clinical operation that provides high-quality and cost conscience care, supports them regardless of their employment ownership structure — private, academic or employed practice — and makes it easy for them to see their patients and interface with the operation. He knows that HCA makes that easier than almost any other provider system in the world.
HCA was founded by two physicians who understood the importance of providing physicians with comprehensive support that makes it easy for them to do what they do best – to heal. Today, that support accommodates more physician voice in decisions that affects them and their patients, more investment in technology, facilities, and operations, and more opportunities to strengthen one’s practice and flourish in one’s career.
For Chris, HCA offers a unique opportunity to make a deep and resounding impact on the nation’s health. It affords every single team member the chance to partner with HCA Physician Services Group’s physicians and providers to deliver the kind of care that makes a difference.
“For today and tomorrow’s physicians, there will inevitably be more change, but we are tackling this change and new challenges together with the support of one of the nation’s strongest and highest quality networks,” Chris said. “Being a physician isn’t easy, but it is one of the most fulfilling and noble careers to pursue. It is my honor to support the strongest, most compassionate, and innovative physician community in the nation.”
Happy Doctors’ Day.
HCA 50th Anniversary
In 1968, HCA Healthcare was conceived by two physicians and an accomplished business leader — Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., and Jack Massey. This year, HCA celebrates its golden anniversary and the culture of caring established by our three founders 50 years ago. To help us celebrate our 50th year, we’ll share stories here that reflect HCA’s mission – above all else, the care and improvement of human life – and our pledge to improve life and make history for the next 50 years and beyond.