A Unit-Based Approach

John Nelson, MD, FACP

Would you want all your patients on the same nursing unit? Think about it—no more walking all over the building to see a few patients on each floor.

Because you would be physically present on “your” unit nearly all day, you could develop close working relationships with the nurses and other caregivers, which might improve everyone’s satisfaction with work. Everyone could better anticipate your work flow and communicate this to patients and families. You likely would be paged much less often because the nursing staff could keep track of whether you’re with a patient or off the floor to attend a conference; they could hold non-urgent issues until you get back.

All these things might make you and others more efficient—able to see the same number of patients you see today in less time, while maintaining or improving quality and cost effectiveness.

Sound familiar? The idea that working at only one site leads to efficiency and quality improvement is one of the underpinnings of the hospitalist concept. Instead of covering the outpatient office and hospital every day, doctors can focus on only the hospital or only the office. But what if you extended that idea to focusing your practice on only one unit within the hospital rather than the whole building? Would that be a good idea and lead to the benefits described above, or would that be taking the idea of “focused practice” too far?

Before answering, I should describe the approaches some practices have taken to pursue the benefits of concentrating patients in one part of the hospital. I’ll refer to this idea as “unit-based hospitalists,” the term current SHM President Rusty Holman uses when talking about this idea.

Locate most hospitalist patients in one unit. This is the most common form of unit-based hospitalists. Most institutions find the closest they can get to unit-based hospitalists is to have all hospitalist admissions go to the same floor when that floor has a bed available and the patient doesn’t require placement elsewhere. In such cases, the hospitalist practice might have something like 50% of patients on that floor and 50% dispersed throughout the hospital (telemetry, ICU, surgery floor). So the whole hospitalist practice has a primary “home” within the hospital, while each hospitalist spends part of each day caring for patients elsewhere. This is not very difficult for most hospitals to implement—and many are because most hospitalist patients end up on the “general medical” floor. This lets the hospitalist spend more time on that unit than any other. She can get to know the staff on that floor better, which might lead to many benefits, including improved satisfaction and efficiency.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *