Tips for Policy and Procedure Manuals, Along with Roles for NP/PAs


Editor’s note: Second in a three-part series.

This month continues my list of important issues that help position your hospitalist group for greatest success. SHM’s “Key Principles and Characteristics of an Effective Hospital Medicine Group” is the definitive list, and this is my much smaller list. Last month, I discussed a culture (or mindset) of practice ownership, a formal system of group decision-making, and the importance of hospitalists themselves playing an active role in recruitment.

Policy and Procedure Manual

New protocols and decisions are being implemented every day. It is impossible to keep track of them, especially the ones that come into play infrequently. For example, many adult hospitalist groups have reached decisions about whether to admit teenagers (e.g., admit only 16 and older or 18 and older, etc.) and whether a hospitalist or obstetrician serves as attending for pregnant women admitted for a medical problem like asthma or pneumonia. But ask everyone in your group to recite the policies, and I bet the answers will differ.

My experience is that only about 20% to 25% of hospitalist groups have written these things down in one place, but all should. It doesn’t need to be fancy and could just start as a Word document in which the lead hospitalist or other designated person writes down a handful of policies and then updates them on an ongoing basis. For example, if a group meeting results in adopting a new policy, it could be added to the document as soon as the meeting adjourns. In some cases, a policy is communicated by email; it would be fine to just copy the body of that email into the manual.

This “living” document could be maintained on a shared computer drive accessible from anywhere in or out of the hospital. That way, when the solo night doctor thinks, “Do we admit 17-year-olds or not?,” she has a place to find the answer right away. And the manual will be a real asset to orient new providers to your practice.

You could start the policy and procedure manual by listing categories, including human resource issues like sick-day policy, how to request days off or scheduling changes, clinical policies like which hip fractures are admitted by hospitalists versus orthopedics, billing and coding practices such as always turn in charges at end of each day, and so on.

I’ve seen useful manuals that are about 10 pages and others that run more than 50 pages.

An Effective Performance Dashboard

Every hospitalist group should have some sort of routine performance report (dashboard) provided in the same format at regular intervals, yet in my experience many, or even most, don’t. It is worth the sometimes considerable effort to develop a meaningful dashboard, and in 2006, SHM published a helpful guide. Even though it is getting old, most of the advice is still very relevant even if the metrics we care most about have changed.

I’m a big believer in providing unblinded performance data to all in the hospitalist group. For example, a report of individual work relative value unit (wRVU) productivity would show productivity for each doctor by name. I think it is healthy to be transparent and ensure all in the group know how others are performing. There is nothing like finding out you are a performance outlier to spark an interest in understanding why and what should be done about it.

Roles for NPs and PAs

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) can be valuable contributors to a successful hospitalist program, and according to the 2014 State of Hospital Medicine Report, 65% of hospitalist groups nationally had at least one such clinician—an increase over prior years.

While the idea of NP/PAs contributing to the practice is a sound one, my experience is that many groups execute the idea poorly and end up creating a role that can be both professionally unsatisfying and not serve as a platform to contribute effectively to the group. A common scenario is a hospitalist group has trouble with recruiting physicians, so it turns to NP/PAs because they are more readily available. But so often the group has thought little about the precise role NP/PAs will serve (nothing more than “they will help out the docs”). Too often the result is NP/PAs who will say many physician hospitalists simply repeat all the work on each patient, which certainly isn’t a rewarding or cost-effective role.

All should be convinced that the practice is better off in terms of increased overall productivity and/or other benefits by investing in NP/PAs than if those same dollars were instead invested in physician staffing. So one economic model to consider is to calculate the total cost (salary, benefits, malpractice, etc.) for an NP/PA and divide that by those costs for a physician. Let’s say that shows an NP/PA costs half as much as a physician (ranges 40% to 60% in my experience). That staffing cost could be considered in “physician FTE equivalents” so that, for example, a practice with four NP/PAs each costing 50% as much as a physician, or two physician equivalents, could be said to have a total of two physician-equivalent FTEs of staffing. Is the practice better off configured that way, or would it be better to have two physicians instead of the four NP/PAs? The answer will vary, but I think every practice should look at NP/PA staffing through this lens, as well as other considerations, to determine whether they’ve made the best choice.

Having NP/PAs and physicians share rounding duties can be tricky to do efficiently. In my experience, NP/PAs can be better positioned to contribute optimally and find greater professional satisfaction if responsible for a specific portion of the group’s work. For example, at a large hospital, NP/PAs might see all orthopedic consults or psych unit admissions reasonably independently, though with physician backup available. Or NP/PAs could serve as evening (“swing”) shift staffing and manage cross-cover and some admissions. In these roles, the division of labor between NP/PAs and physicians is clearer and allows NP/PAs to contribute most effectively. 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 john.nelson@nelsonflores.com.

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