At the tender age of 32, Phillip Piccinini has a high-pressure job with a big title attached: emergency department medical director for St. Francis Memorial Hospital.
Not only is the practicing ER physician responsible for saving elderly heart-attack victims and young junkies on his full-time shifts as a doctor, he’s also responsible for making sure patients are seen and checked-in fast enough that the ER doesn’t have to divert ambulances to other hospitals.
In his one-year tenure, he’s done just that with the help of his staff. Where the ER used to divert 15 percent of ambulance patients monthly, it now diverts less than 4 percent, he said. St. Francis Memorial Hospital is second to San Francisco General Hospital in the ambulance traffic it receives.
He had to learn those efficiencies fast.
“When you go to medical school, and you learn how to take care of patients … you don’t really learn about the business of medicine,” Piccinini said. “I learned a lot about operational performance. I had to learn a lot about customer services.”
Not that he became emergency department medical director right out of school. Piccinini grew up in Reno, where his mother is a schoolteacher and his family owns a sporting-goods store. While an undergrad at the University of Nevada, he thought an emergency medical technician friend at a local water park had a “cool job,” so Piccinini dual-enrolled at the local community college, got his EMT credentials, and supported himself as a Washoe County hospital orderly while pursuing his college studies in cell and molecular biology.
“I really fell in love with the environment, seeing the amazing things the people in the emergency department do on a daily basis,” he said.
He did his residency at an emergency center program in Los Angeles, and then joined his current employer, California Emergency Physicians. St. Francis contracts with the 700-doctor CEP for its emergency physicians, who bill patients and their insurers separately from the hospital. CEP offered a fellowship program in ER management, which Piccinini took while working at St. Francis. When the fellowship was complete in 2005, the hospital’s emergency director coincidentally stepped down, and Piccinini was in “the right place at the right time,” he said.
Now, he and his staff are enjoying the first days of the new, $12.6 million ER that St. Francis opened Oct. 4 as part of a seismic retrofit. The 10,000-square-foot facility has 19 beds, whereas the old one had 11. The new ER also has flat-screen televisions for patients, a pediatric room and, more importantly, life-saving electronic patient records.
“There is actually a national push for, eventually, all the hospitals going to online medical records, because studies have shown that it does reduce errors in healthcare systems,” Piccinini said. “Our administration has really recognized the importance of emergency care for the people in our community.”
New project: New 19-bed state of the art emergency department at St. Francis Memorial Hospital
Number of emails a day: 30
Number of voice mails a day: 5
Essential web site: CEP.com, Hospital web site
Best perk: The ability to care for the citizens of San Francisco
Gadgets: iPod, HP laptop computer
Education: BS Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, MD: University ofNevada, School of Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residency Training, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
Last conference: CEP regional partnership meeting
First job: Orderly at Washoe Medical Center, Reno
Original aspiration: To be a police officer
Career objective: to advance the specialty of emergency medicine and contribute to the health care needs of our community
Hometown: Reno, Nevada
Sports/hobbies: Snow skiing, water skiing, boating, fishing
Favorite restaurant: My house — my wife is a wonderful cook
Computer: HP laptop
Vacation spot: Traveling with my wife to different countries
Favorite clothier: Banana Republic
Reading: “Marker,” a medical thriller by Robin Cook
Worst fear: That we would ever have to face a terrorist attack in San Francisco
Motivation: My family, friends and patients