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When Susan Szulewski, MD, was a medical student, she noticed how difficult it was for patients to navigate the cumbersome and confusing processes of the health care system—and she was inspired to do something about it.
“I was on rotation at Mass General in their acute psychiatric service,” she recalled. “It was two in the morning, and I looked around at the patients in the emergency department. Some of them had been there for hours or days, and I started to wonder how they were going to get the treatment they needed.”
As medical director for McLean Hospital’s Clinical Evaluation Center, Szulewski is working to make the process work better for patients. She is in charge of the admissions department, the hospital’s front line, where patients first interact with the hospital when seeking care. She oversees the clinical care offered in this area, where patients receive a full psychiatric and medical workup. In addition, Szulewski believes strongly in the importance of continued education in the department, and she is involved with teaching and mentoring her clinical staff and trainees.
In these roles, Szulewski follows her passion for process improvement. “I’ve always been extremely interested in emergency psychiatry and access to care,” she said. “I realize how complicated it is for patients to seek treatment when they are in periods of distress, often at their worst, and I want to find ways to solve some of these system issues and improve the ways that patients access care.”
Szulewski pursues this work on several fronts. Working with her McLean team, she looks at the admissions and evaluation process “on a systems level” to identify inefficiencies and recommend improvements. In addition, she works with her counterparts at area hospitals to find ways to streamline processes. “The problems with access don’t just impact one institution—everyone is affected,” she said.
With this in mind, she and her colleagues in the Partners system are now working through a grant to help mental health patients who come to the emergency department “identify their home institutions, stay connected to their providers, and improve continuity of care.”
Szulewski also serves as a liaison between the Partners HealthCare Clinical Process Improvement Leadership Program (CPIP) and McLean. “It provides tools to clinical staff to solve challenges across the system and learn how to implement and measure changes to make sure they are sustainable,” she said.
“As someone who is a listener and an observer who likes to keep the pieces together, this kind of work is a perfect fit for my personality,” said Szulewski. “Process improvement and quality are large drivers for me. I’m very fortunate that I get to do this kind of work, particularly at McLean, where people are always striving to be better for our patients.”