Tips for Hospitalists on Spending More of Their Time at the Top of Their License

I think arranging post-hospital appointments should be no more difficult for the hospitalist than ordering a CBC.

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I think arranging post-hospital appointments should be no more difficult for the hospitalist than ordering a CBC.

Hospitalists spend too little time working at the top of their license. Put differently, I think a hospitalist often spends only about 1.5 to two hours in a 10- or 12-hour workday making use of the knowledge base and skills developed in training. (I wrote about this and referenced some hospitalist time-motion studies in my December 2010 column.)

The remaining hours are typically spent in activities such as figuring out which surgeon is on call and tracking her down, managing patient lists, filling out paper or electronic forms, explaining observation status to patients, and so on.

When I first became a hospitalist in the 1980s, there was already a lot of talk about the paperwork burden faced by doctors across all specialties. I recall the gnashing of teeth that ensued—lots of articles and seminars, and it seems to me even a few legislative proposals, focused on the topic. It appears that nearly every recruitment ad at the time mentioned something like “Let us take care of running the business, so you can focus solely on patient care.” Clearly, doctors were seeking relief from the burden of nonclinical work even back then.

I can’t recall reading or hearing anyone talk about the “paperwork” burden of physician practice in the past few years. This isn’t because things have gotten better; in fact, I think the burden of “non-doctoring activities” has steadily increased. We hear less about the problem of excessive paperwork simply because, more recently, it has been framed differently—it is now typically referred to as the problem of too little time spent practicing at the top of license.

Search the Internet for “top of license” and a number of interesting things turn up. Most are healthcare related—maybe other professions don’t use the term—and there are just as many links referring to nurses as physicians. Much is written about the need for primary care physicians to spend more time working at the top of their license, but I couldn’t find anything addressing this issue specifically for hospitalists.

What Can Be Done?

Moving your work as a hospitalist more to the top of your license isn’t a simple thing, and our whole field will need to work on this over time. The most effective interventions will vary some from place to place, but here are some ideas that may be relevant for many hospitalist groups.

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