Practice Economics

Things Hospitalists Want Hospital Administrators to Know


I think it is really cool that this publication has a series of articles on “What Cardiologists [or infection disease specialists, nephrologists, etc.] Want Hospitalists to Know.” I’m always interested to see which clinical topics made the list and which I’m already reasonably familiar with versus know little about. I’ve added this series to my list of things that are always worth the time to read, along with the “What’s New” section in UpToDate, review articles in major journals, and the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.

Not long ago, I worked with a hospitalist group that had agreed to cardiologists’ request that new hospitalists round with a cardiologist for something like three days as part of their orientation. This seems like they’ve taken the idea of “What Cardiologists Want Hospitalists to Know” a lot further than I had ever considered. I’m sure it would have value on many levels, including positioning the new hospitalist to work more effectively with the cardiologists, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cost. And I’m really concerned it sends a signal that the relationship is one way—that is, the hospitalists need to understand what the cardiologists do and want from them and not the reverse. For many reasons, I think this should be a reciprocal relationship, and it seems reasonable that new cardiologists should orient by rounding with hospitalists.

Same goes for the “… Want Hospitalists to Know” series. I’d like to see articles enumerating what hospitalists want doctors in other fields to know either in this magazine or its counterpart in the other specialty. What follows is the first of these. It is my take on non-clinical topics hospitalists want hospital leaders to know, and I’ll leave it to others to write about clinical topics.

We Aren’t on ‘Vacation’ Every Other Week

If you always think of our days off as a vacation, as in, “Those hospitalists get 26 weeks of vacation a year,” you’re making a mistake. A significant portion of our weekdays off are just like your weekends; they’re days to take a breather.

And you’re likely forgetting how many weekends we work.

And maybe lots of nights also.

You probably work more hours annually, but having more days for a breather are one offset for our weekends and nights.

Insisting Hospitalists Work an Entire Shift (12 Hours) Doesn’t Make a Lot of Sense on Slow Days

Staying around after completing clinical work yields no value. Too often, the time is spent watching YouTube or similar activities. And it means the doctor will be much more frustrated, and more likely to lobby for overtime compensation, when needing to stay beyond the scheduled end of the shift on busy days.

Avoid measuring work effort in hours. And in many cases, it is best to avoid precise determinations of when a day shift ends. At most hospitals, you do need at least one daytime doctor to stay on duty until the next shift arrives, but it rarely makes sense to have all of the hospitalists stay.

Your hospitalists need to be professional enough not to dash out the door the minute they’ve put notes on every patient’s chart. Instead, rather than leaving at the first opportunity on slow days, they could do all of the discharge preparation (med rec, discharge summary, etc.) for patients likely ready for discharge the next day; this can help a lot to discharge patients early the next day. Or they could make “secondary” rounds focused on patient satisfaction, etc.

Obs Patients Usually Are No Less Complicated—or Labor-Intensive—to Care For

It’s best to think of observation as solely a payor classification and not a good indicator of risk, complexity, or work required. Unfortunately “observation” is often thought of as shorthand for simple, not sick, easy to manage, etc. While true for a small subset of observation patients, such as younger people with a single problem such as atypical chest pain, it isn’t true for older (Medicare) patients with multiple chronic illnesses, on multiple medications, and with complex social situations.

Shouldn’t We Measure Length of Stay for All Patients in Hours Rather Than Days?

Then we could better understand throughput issues such as whether afternoon discharges for inpatients are late discharges or really very early discharges that weren’t held until the next morning.

Even High-Performing Hospitalist Groups Are Likely to Have Patient Satisfaction Scores on the Lower End of Doctors at Your Hospital

Don’t decide that just because they have much lower scores than the orthopedists, cardiologists, obstetricians, and other specialties, it is the hospitalists who are falling furthest below their potential. It may be the cardiologists who have a long way to go to achieve great scores for their specialty.

This isn’t an excuse. Just about every hospitalist group can do better and should work to make it happen. And because in nearly every hospital more HCAHPS surveys are attributed to hospitalists than any other specialty by a wide margin, our scores have a huge impact on the overall hospital averages. But you should keep in mind that, for a variety of reasons, hospitalists everywhere have physician communication scores that are lower than many or most other specialties.

To my knowledge, there isn’t a data set that provides patient satisfaction scores by specialty. And scores seem to vary a lot by geographic region, e.g., they’re nearly always higher in the South than other parts of the country. So there isn’t a good way to control for all the variables and know you’re setting appropriate improvement goals for each specialty. But your hospitalists will appreciate it if you acknowledge it may be unreasonable to set the same goals across specialties.

We’d Love Your Help Getting Rid of Pagers

Secure text messaging between all caregivers seems to be the way to go, and we will look to the hospital to make an investment in technology to make it possible and train users to ensure that by making messaging easier the volume of messages (interruptions) doesn’t just skyrocket. We, the hospitalists at your hospital, are happy to help with all of this, from vendor selection to plans for implementation. Please ask! TH

Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at [email protected].

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