As the practice of medicine continues to transition to performance-based payment systems, the number of mergers of hospitalists and specialists has surged. Payment models that focus on clinical outcomes and best practices link payment to the ability of physicians to provide efficient, quality healthcare and improve patient outcomes. These payment systems are changing the way healthcare services are delivered by demanding better patient care at a lower cost. The result is increasing pressure on physicians to meet operational and quality goals, or receive less reimbursement for their services.
Studies have shown that the effective use of hospitalists can improve standardized patient care for surgical patients. Hospitalists also provide value to specialists by freeing up time so they can focus on their area of expertise. As a result, co-management arrangements between hospitalists and specialists have become a popular tool to define working relationships and improve the quality of care patients receive.
When hospitalists first debuted, they were seen as a threat to primary care physicians and specialists. Over time, they were criticized for performing routine work for specialized physicians. To overcome these negative connotations and prove their worth, hospitalists began co-managing patients for surgical specialists, who soon realized the significant value hospitalist services provided. Not only do they share in the responsibility of care provided to patients, but they also reduce readmissions and costs associated with providing healthcare.
Now there are even specialty hospitalists who specialize in a particular field, such as orthopedics or obstetrics.
Hospitalists add value by helping to alleviate the burden on specialists—providing ED coverage, assisting in the operating room, and rounding on patients. They evaluate surgical patients for medical issues, reconcile medications across the spectrum of a patient’s care, and standardize the patient discharge and communication processes.
Providing these services frees specialists from rounding and allows them to concentrate on their specialty. Hospitalists do not have office-based practices, which allows them to spend their time in the hospital caring for admitted, pre-operative, and post-operative patients.
It is in the pre-operative and post-operative environments where hospitalists have established their extreme value to specialists. Under co-management arrangements, hospitalists are able to ensure that all pre-operative tests are conducted, reports are dictated, and the patient’s medical history is available. Pre-operative evaluations allow the hospitalist to develop a post-operative plan of care and proactively address many medical concerns. Also, the hospitalist is available to see patients immediately after surgery, allowing immediate evaluation and treatment for high blood pressure, diabetic issues, or other medical issues.
In sum, the hospitalist is responsible for the medical care of the specialist’s patients, and the specialist is able to focus on the specialty services he or she provides. Providing these services gives hospitalists the opportunity to anticipate problems and overcome issues, which results in more efficient care, shorter lengths of stay in the hospital, and improved patient satisfaction. Such results make hospitalists critical to success in performance-based payment systems.
Successful Co-Management Arrangements
A key to success in establishing a co-management arrangement between a hospitalist and a specialist is setting forth the parameters of the relationship in a written agreement. It is particularly important that the relationship foster equality among the parties, regardless of who is the attending physician of record. The parties should be jointly responsible for patient care, with the hospitalist treating the patient’s general medical concerns and the specialist focusing on techniques within his specialty to improve the patient’s issues.
The agreement should clearly state the responsibilities of each party, including delineating the party responsible for decisions such as admission and discharge. It should address resources and set forth the standardized processes and protocols to be used when treating patients.