The Burdens of Comanagement

It may be time for hospitalists to rethink their co-management relationships, says Eric Siegal, MD, chair of the Society of Hospital Medicine’s Public Policy Committee. Co-management is a mainstay of hospital medicine, but “recent, albeit limited evidence suggests hospitalist consultation and co-management may not be as effective as originally anticipated,” Dr. Siegal writes in this month’s Journal of Hospital Medicine.

He demonstrates his point with several studies, including the Hospitalist Orthopedic Team trial, which involved 526 patients who underwent elective hip or knee surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Hospitalist intervention reduced incidence of minor complications, such as urinary tract infections, but had no effect on more serious complications; it reduced adjusted length of stay (LOS) by a modest 0.5 days but did not affect actual LOS or cost per case. On the other hand, patients admitted to the Mayo Clinic for hip fractures derived a clear benefit from hospitalist co-management: Compared to the standard orthopedic service, the hospitalist team decreased time-to-surgery and lowered LOS by 2.2 days without compromising outcomes.


Find this editorial, “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean That You Should: A Call for the Rational Application of Hospitalist Comanagement,” in the September-October issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

These and similar findings “support the common sense notion that hospitalists most benefit patients who are sick, frail, and medically or socially complex,” Dr. Siegal writes. “As a corollary, hospitalists probably offer relatively little benefit to surgical and specialty patients who are young or have compensated medical co-morbidities and/or straightforward disposition plans.”

Dr. Siegal says he wrote the article because he realized even though hospitalists share accountability and authority for patient care with other specialists, there’s rarely a clear line defining where one physician’s responsibilities end and the other’s begin. “My intention was to make people stop and think about what they were doing, rather than just doing it,” he tells The Hospitalist.

Co-management is a good example of the phenomenon known in the military as mission creep, Dr. Siegal explains. Mission creep occurs when a project originates with well-defined and perhaps limited goals, but then expands into areas for which it was never intended.

Co-management arose during California’s managed care heyday: Hospital administrators realized surgeons were having difficulty controlling patient length of stay and managing medical co-morbidities during surgery. Enter the hospitalist, charged with coordinating the care of the acutely ill in the most effective and efficient way possible. Surgeons and other specialists liked the idea of sharing responsibility with another physician, and administrators liked the effect on the bottom line.

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