The very nature of America’s hospitals is changing. At one time in the not too distant past, hospitals could charge “cost-plus,” tacking on a profit above their actual expenses. Hospitals generated most of their revenue from procedures on horizontal patients with long stays in house. Physicians viewed the hospital as a swap meet, with each physician having an autonomous booth and not caring much what went on elsewhere in the facility.
Today, hospitals are under tough cost pressures, with changes in payments from Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. Many hospitals now get more than 50% of their revenue from vertical patients from what was previously considered the outpatient segment of healthcare. Physicians have moved from being revenue providers to being potential competitors or, in the best-case scenario, active partners and teammates with their hospital.
And hospitalists are right in the middle of this changing dynamic.
Because the hospital and the healthcare system are rapidly evolving, it should not surprise anyone that the very nature of hospital medicine is changing rapidly. Some would say too rapidly.
At a strategic planning session I led almost 20 years when the National Association of Inpatient Physicians (NAIP), the precursor to SHM, was just starting out, the prevailing consensus was that hospitalists might take over inpatient services for 50% of family physicians and 25% of internists. Obviously, the penetrance of hospital medicine into almost every hospital in the U.S. and the transfer of the acute-care management of most of the inpatients previously handled by family physicians and internists are just part of the growth in hospital medicine.
Even more innovative and disruptive has been the almost relentless scope creep as hospitalists now actively comanage many surgical and subspecialty patients. As the neurologists have given up most of their acute-care duties, hospitalists are now the de facto inpatient neurologists. Hospitalists also now manage the majority of inpatient senior citizens and have become the inpatient geriatricians without the formal training. In-hospital procedures (e.g., central line, ultrasound, intubation, etc.) previously done by surgeons or critical-care or primary-care physicians now are done by default by hospitalists.
But these expansions of hospitalist scope pale in comparison with the continued broadening of responsibilities that continues to stretch even the most well-trained hospitalists beyond their training or capacity.
There are not enough trained and certified palliative-care physicians to allocate one of them to each hospital. Yet treatment and survival of cancer and other serious diseases as well as the aging of the population demand that hospitals be prepared to provide the most compassionate and up-to-date palliative approach possible. Palliative care is more than just end-of-life care. It involves hospice as well as pain and symptom management. It is aimed at improvement in quality of life and is used in the presence or absence of curative strategies.
Hospitalists have been thrust into the breach and are being asked more and more to provide palliative-care services. SHM has recognized the gap between the increasing demand on hospitalists and the inadequate training we all receive in residency. That’s why we’re working with palliative-care societies and experts to develop educational and training initiatives to close these gaps.
Our hospitals are becoming increasingly critical care intensive as simpler cases are treated as outpatients and only the very ill come to be admitted to hospital. This has created an increasing demand for more physicians trained in critical care at a time when older intensivists are retiring or going into sleep medicine and younger physicians, who might have chosen a career in critical care, are becoming hospitalists. The shortage of trained critical-care providers is reaching a crisis point in many American hospitals, with hospitalists being asked to be the critical-care extender.