October 2004 Bulletin

Introducing the new AAOS Medical Director

Tennessee “volunteer” takes on key staff role

Perhaps no one better exemplifies the Tennessee “volunteer” spirit than the Academy’s new executive director of medical affairs, Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Haralson has been an active volunteer with the AAOS. His many experiences on various committees as well as on the Board of Councilors and the AAOS Board of Directors gave him a keen appreciation for the staff’s efforts on behalf of orthopaedic surgeons. They also provided him with years of training for his new position, which he calls a “dream job.”

“I’ve seen lots of changes at the Academy,” said Dr. Haralson, “most of them good. But until I accepted this position, I didn’t realize that my dream job could be real.”

“Dr. Haralson is an energetic, long-time volunteer with a great history of service to the AAOS,” said Karen L. Hackett, FACHE, CAE, chief executive officer. “His rich history with the Academy has given him a unique understanding of the issues facing us. His background as an orthopaedic surgeon will be helpful throughout the Academy, particularly in health policy and practice management issues. And his MBA is a valuable asset as he assumes his management role and responsibilities.”

A career of service

Aside from a rotating internship at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and a stint as chief of orthopaedic surgery in Fort Campbell, Ky., during his military service, Dr. Haralson had spent his entire orthopaedic career in Tennessee. He attended the University of Tennessee (UT) and received his degree from the UT Medical School. He spent his general surgery residency at Kennedy Veterans Hospital and his orthopaedic residency at Campbell Clinic, both in Memphis.

Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA, shows off some of the many awards and memorabilia he has collected during his more than 25 years of volunteer service.

Since 1971, he’s had a private practice in Maryville, Tenn., a small town located between Knoxville and the Great Smokey Mountains. He has also served as medical director of Southeastern Orthopaedics, a group orthopaedic practice in Knoxville, and is an associate clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Knoxville.

In 1998, Dr. Haralson returned to the University of Tennessee for his master’s degree in business administration. Elected class president, he was also the recipient of an Outstanding Service Award presented by the faculty.

His public, community and, most notably, his professional volunteer activities have made him a world traveler. His interests in administrative medicine and computer technology have made him a sought-after educator. Ultimately, it was this unique combination of skills, service and interests that made him the ideal candidate for the AAOS Medical Director position.

Dr. Haralson initially became active with the AAOS when he served on the Board of Councilors (BOC), first as Tennessee’s representative and then as BOC Chairman. He went on to serve on the AAOS Board of Directors and as Treasurer of the organization from 1988-1991. Since 1992, he has served on the AAOS CPT-ICD Coding Committee, most recently as chairman.

Dr. Haralson’s other affiliations include memberships in several orthopaedic organizations, including the Tennessee Orthopaedic Society, the Mid-America Orthopaedic Society, the American Orthopaedic Association, the Clinical Orthopaedic Society and the North American Spine Society. He is also a member of the American College of Surgeons, American Medical Infomatics Association and American College of Physician Executives. Since 1998, he has served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Disability Evaluating Physicians, and was president in 2003-2004.

Health policy and practice management

As executive director of medical affairs, Dr. Haralson will play key roles in both health policy and practice management. His responsibilities encompass the departments of research and scientific affairs, socioeconomic and state society affairs, and academic affairs. In his new position, he will be working closely with the AAOS Washington office, particularly in advocating for research funding and working for improved reimbursements and medical liability reform.

“There is an increased interest in practice management,” said Dr. Haralson. “Most orthopaedic surgeons are part of small groups, which don’t really have the ability to collect best practice information. The Academy can be their source for this information. So much can be done to improve office efficiencies, not just in billing and coding, but also in workflow, contracting and negotiating. Medicine is an altruistic profession, but everyone who enters the field also hopes to be financially successful.

“We may not be able to effect sweeping changes on a national basis,” he continued, “but we can influence. We can advocate, particularly on reimbursement issues. We can teach ethical practice management techniques that will help fellows succeed.”

Gung-ho management

Although Dr. Haralson was one of the first to recognize the potential and power of computers in the workplace, he does not define himself as an “innovator.” Instead, he calls himself “an organizer and a plagiarizer” who surrounds himself with smart people and turns them loose. One of his management heroes is Tom Peters, whose latest book is Re-Imagine!

Dr. Haralson welcomes visitors to his new office, continuing the “open door” policy established by his predecessor.

“Have you read this book?” he asked, holding up a copy of Ken Blanchard’s and Shelley Bowles’ Gung Ho! Turn On the People in Any Organization. “It’s great!”

As one who grew up surrounded by the hills and hollows of Tennessee, Dr. Haralson easily connects with Gung Ho!’s three main principles, which are based on Native American lore. The “spirit of the squirrel” ensures that people have worthwhile work guided by specific goals and values. The “way of the beaver” allows them to do their jobs, and the “gift of the goose” ensures that their efforts are encouraged and recognized.

At the Academy, Dr. Haralson has already begun putting those principles into practice. “We need to make sure that our goals mesh with the Academy’s strategic plans,” he said. “For example, when it comes to evidence-based medicine, the Academy cannot do clinical research. But we can categorize the literature and teach others how to judge the validity of studies.”

Challenging technology

“Medicine is behind most other industries in its use of technology,” noted Dr. Haralson. “But that will have to change. Electronic medical records can help reduce errors, and Internet-based access to diagnosis and treatment information can help physicians cope with the ongoing explosion in medical knowledge and research.”

That’s where the Academy can be of particular benefit to fellows. Dr. Haralson hopes to combine research and practice management to help fellows use technology wisely and well. “We need more continuing medical education on how to use technology, how to read the literature and how to put the best practices into our practices.”

As an example, Dr. Haralson cites the patient satisfaction component within maintenance of certification guidelines. “No one knows how to measure patient satisfaction. And measures are not the same in every region or specialty. Sports medicine patients tend to be very satisfied if they can get back on the field or track. Patients with back pain, however, are frequently dissatisfied. But neither of those results are an accurate reflection of the doctor’s care.”

There’s one thing, however, that technology won’t change: The personal touch. “When Bill Tipton was medical director,” noted Dr. Haralson, “you always knew he was available to you. You could call him; you had direct access to him. I want to continue that tradition.”

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