The Hospital Home Team: Physicians Increase Focus on Inpatient Care

For most of my medical career, the hospital functioned more as a swap meet, where every physician had his or her own booth, than as an integrated, community health resource with a focused mission. Although the innovation of HM might be counted as the beginning of a new, more aligned approach between physicians and the hospital as an institution, the rapidly evolving employment of physicians by hospitals and the focusing of physician practice primarily on inpatient care has taken this to another level.

While it may be appropriate for a patient with an acute abdomen to be admitted to the hospitalist service, if the hospitalist determines that this patient needs surgery sooner rather than later, there needs to be a straightforward way to get the surgeon in house and on the case and the patient to the operating room.

The New Paradigm

A number of recent surveys by physician recruitment firms and physician management companies have found that less than 25% of physicians are self-employed. Planned changes to insurance and Medicare reimbursement for healthcare have driven cardiologists, orthopedists, surgeons, and many other physicians, who want to protect their flow of patients and dollars, to readily become hospital or large-group-practice employees. The entrance of accountable-care organizations (ACOs) to the landscape and the greater need for physician and hospital alignment have only accelerated this trend.

At the same time, the growth of all sorts of hospitalist specialties has further changed the medical staff of the hospital. Internal-medicine and family-practice hospitalists now number more than 35,000. There are probably more than 2,000 pediatric hospitalists. The newly formed Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists (SOGH) estimates there are more than 1,500 so-called laborists in the U.S., and there are several hundred neurohospitalists, orthopedic hospitalists, and acute-care surgeons.

It is clear to me that a “home team” for the hospital of the future is developing, and it includes hospitalists, ED physicians, critical-care physicians, and the growing panoply of hospital-employed cardiologists and surgeons. There is an opportunity for alignment and integration in what has been a fragmented delivery of healthcare.

On the commercial side of the equation, this new opportunity for physician-hospital alignment might allow for a new distribution of compensation. It already is common for hospitals to be transferring some of “their” Medicare Part A dollars to hospitalists. With penalties or additional payments in the ACO model (e.g. shared savings) or in value-based purchasing, there certainly are mechanisms to redistribute funding to new physician compensation models, based more on performance than on volume of services (i.e. the old productivity model).

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