You shouldn’t maintain things that do not deliver the value you anticipated when you first put them in place. For example, I thought Netflix streaming would be terrific, but I have used it so infrequently that it probably costs me $50 per movie or show watched. I should probably dump it.
Your hospitalist group might have some operational practices that are not as valuable as they seem and could be replaced with something better. For many groups, this might include doing away with a separate daytime admitter shift and a morning meeting to distribute the overnight admissions.
Daytime Admission Shift
My experience is that hospitalist groups with more than about five daytime doctors almost always have a day-shift person dedicated to seeing new admissions. In most cases, this procedure is implemented with the idea of reducing the stress of other day-shift doctors, who don’t have to interrupt rounds to admit a new patient. Some see a dedicated admitter as a tool to improve ED throughput, because this doctor isn’t tied up with rounds and can immediately start seeing a new admission.
I think an admitter shift does deliver both of these benefits, but its costs make it suboptimal in most settings. For example, a single admitter will impede ED throughput any time more than one new admission is waiting to be seen, and for most groups that will be much of the day. In fact, improved ED throughput is best achieved by having many hospitalists available for admissions, not just a single admitter. (There are many other factors influencing ED throughput, such as whether ED doctors simply send patients to their “floor” bed prior to being seen by a hospitalist. But for this article, I’m just considering the influence of a dedicated admitter.)
I think “silo-ing” work into different roles, such as separating rounding and admitting, makes it more difficult to ensure that each is always working productively. There are likely to be times when the admitter has little or nothing to do, even though the rounders are very busy. Or perhaps the rounders aren’t very busy, but the admitter has just been asked to admit four ED patients at the same time.
While protecting rounders from the stress of admissions is valuable, it comes at the cost of a net increase in hospitalist work, because a new doctor must get to know the patient on the day following admission. And this admitter-to-rounder handoff serves as another opportunity for errors—and probably lowers patient satisfaction.
I think most groups should consider moving the admitter shift into an additional rounder position, dividing admissions across all of the doctors working during the daytime. For example, a group that has six rounders and a separate admitter would change to seven rounders, each available to admit every seventh daytime admission. Each would bear the meaningful stress of having rounds interrupted to admit a new patient, but accepting every seventh daytime admission shouldn’t be too difficult on most days.
Don’t forget that eliminating the admitter means that the list of new patients you take on each morning will be shorter. Mornings may be a little less stressful.
The daytime doctors at many hospitalist groups meet each morning to discuss how the new admissions from the prior night (or even the last 24 hours) will be distributed. Or perhaps one person, sometimes a nurse or clerical staff, arrives very early each day to do this.
Although it might take some careful planning, I think most groups that use this sort of morning distribution should abandon it for a better system. Consider a group in which all six daytime doctors spend an average of 20 minutes distributing patients each morning. Twenty minutes (0.33 hours) times six doctors times 365 days comes to 730 hours annually.
Assuming these doctors are compensated at typical rates, the practice is spending more than $100,000 annually just so the doctors can distribute patients each morning. On top of this, nurses and others at the hospital are usually delayed in learning which daytime hospitalist is caring for each patient. These costs seem unreasonably high.
An alternative is to develop a system by which any admitter, such as a night doctor, who will not be providing subsequent care to a patient can identify by name the doctor who will be providing that care. During the admission encounter, the admitter can tell patient/family, “Dr. Boswell will be taking over your care starting tomorrow. He’s a great guy and has been named one of Portland’s best doctors.” This seems so much better than saying, “One of my partners will be taking over tomorrow. I don’t know which of my partners it will be, but they’re all good doctors.” And Dr. Boswell’s name can be entered into the attending physician field of the EHR so that all hospital staff will know without delay.
MedAptus has recently launched software they call “Assign” that may be able to replace the morning meeting and automate assigning new admissions to each hospitalist. I haven’t seen it in operation, so I can’t speak for its effectiveness, but it might be worthwhile for some groups.
The changes I’ve described above might not be optimal for every group, and they may take meaningful work to implement. But I don’t think the difficulty of these things is the biggest barrier. The biggest barrier is probably just inertia in most cases, the same reason I’m still a Netflix streaming subscriber even though I almost never watch it. I did, however, really enjoy the Nexflix original series Lilyhammer.