Revisiting the ‘Key Principles and Characteristics of an Effective Hospital Medicine Group'


It has been two years since the “Key Characteristics” was published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.1 The SHM board of directors envisions the Key Characteristics as a tool to improve the performance of hospital medicine groups (HMGs) and “raise the bar” for the specialty.

At SHM’s annual meeting (www.hospitalmedicine2016.org) next month in San Diego, the Key Characteristics will provide the framework for the Practice Management Pre-Course (Sunday, March 6). The pre-course faculty, of which I am a member, will address all 10 principles of the Key Characteristics (see Table 1), including case studies and practical ideas for performance improvement. As a preview, I will cover Principle 6 and provide a few practical tips that you can implement in your practice.

For a more comprehensive discussion of all the Key Characteristics and how to use them, visit the SHM website (visit www.hospitalmedicine.org, then click on the “Practice Management” icon at the top of the landing page).

Characteristic 6.1

The HMG has systems in place to ensure effective and reliable communication with the patient’s primary care physician and/or other provider(s) involved in the patient’s care in the non-acute-care setting.

Practical tip: Your practice probably has administrative procedures in place to notify PCPs that their patient has been admitted to the hospital, using the electronic health record or secure email, if available, or messaging by fax/phone. But are you receiving vital information from the PCP’s office or from the nursing facility? Establish a protocol for obtaining key history, medication, and diagnostic testing information from these sources. One approach is to request this information when notifying the PCP of the patient’s admission.

Practical tip: Use the “grocery store test” to determine when to contact the PCP during the hospital stay. For example, if the PCP were to run into a family member of the patient in the grocery store, would the PCP want to have learned of a change in the patient’s condition in advance of the family member encounter?

Practical tip: Because reaching skilling nursing facility (SNF) physicians/providers (SNFists) can be challenging, hold an annual social event so that they can meet the hospitalists in your practice face-to-face. At the event, exchange cellphone or beeper numbers with the SNFists, and establish an explicit understanding of how handoffs will occur, especially for high-risk patients.

Characteristic 6.2

The HMG contributes in meaningful ways to the hospital’s efforts to improve care transitions.

Because of readmissions penalties, every hospital in the country is concerned with care transitions and avoiding readmissions. But HMGs want to know which interventions reliably decrease readmissions. The Commonwealth Fund recently released the results of a study of 428 hospitals that participated in national efforts to reduce readmissions, including the State Action on Avoidable Rehospitalizations (STAAR) and Hospital to Home (H2H) initiatives. The study’s primary conclusions were as follows:

  • The only strategy consistently associated with reduced risk-standardized readmissions was discharging patients with their appointments already made.2 No other single strategy was reliably associated with a reduction.
  • Hospitals that implemented three or more readmission reduction strategies showed a significant decrease in risk-standardized readmissions versus those implementing fewer than three.

Practical tip: Ensure patients leave the hospital with a PCP follow-up appointment made and in hand.

Practical tip: Work with your hospital on at least three definitive strategies to reduce readmissions.

Implement to Improve Your HMG

The basic and updated 2015 versions of the “Key Principles and Characteristics of an Effective Hospital Medicine Group” can be downloaded from the SHM website (visit www.hospitalmedicine.org, then click on the “Practice Management” icon at the top of the landing page). The updated 2015 version provides definitions and requirements and suggested approaches to demonstrating the characteristic that enables the HMG to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment.

In addition, there is a new tool intended for use by hospitalist practice administrators that cross-references the Key Characteristics with another tool, The Core Competencies for a Hospitalist Practice Administrator. TH

Dr. Whitcomb is Chief Medical Officer of Remedy Partners. He is co-founder and past president of SHM. Email him at [email protected].


  1. Cawley P, Deitelzweig S, Flores L, et al. The key principles and characteristics of an effective hospital medicine group: an assessment guide for hospitals and hospitalists. J Hosp Med. 2014;9(2):123-128.
  2. Bradley EH, Brewster A, Curry L. National campaigns to reduce readmissions: what have we learned? The Commonwealth Fund website. Available at: commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2015/oct/national-campaigns-to-reduce-readmissions. Accessed December 28, 2015.

Table 1. The Key Principles and Characteristics of an Effective Hospital Medicine Group (HMG)1

The HMG:

  1. Has effective leadership.
  2. Has engaged hospitalists.
  3. Has adequate resources.
  4. Has an effective planning and management infrastructure.
  5. Is aligned with the hospital and/or health system.
  6. Supports care coordination across care settings.
  7. Plays a leadership role in addressing key clinical issues in the hospital and/or health system: teaching, quality, safety, efficiency, and the patient/family experience.
  8. Takes a thoughtful and rational approach to its scope of clinical activities.
  9. Has implemented a practice model that is patient- and family-centered, is team-based, and emphasizes effective communication and care coordination.
  10. Recruits and retains qualified clinicians.

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