Acute medicine consultants generally do weekday shifts, with one consultant on call per night.
A few hospitals have embedded PCPs, who know the local system and can facilitate communication with the patient’s family doctor. “This model is well recognized but is not common,” Dr. Bell says.
What’s Happening Elsewhere?
In Australia, public hospitals in New South Wales generated positive results for a hospitalist pilot program in 2007, but also encountered some resistance from the Australian Medical Association and others concerned about its potential impact on such existing roles as career medical officer, PCP, and general physician, and on the provision of medical training in hospitals.6
Hospital medicine has grown since then, but slowly, with individual institutions successfully employing hospitalists at various levels. The fledgling specialty has yet to take off nationally, says Mary G.T. Webber, MBBS, a past president of the Australasian Society of Career Medical Officers. Dr. Webber practices hospital medicine at Ryde Hospital in suburban Sydney, where she has found the mix of clinical care, system development, and mentoring roles offered by the service personally rewarding. She has been frustrated with a lack of progress for the hospitalist movement overall in Australia.
“The concept of a rural generalist is already well accepted in Australia, and hospital medicine is the next logical iteration of the medical generalist,” Dr. Webber says. This need has been supported by the NSW Ministry of Health through a Hospital Skills Program, and, more recently, the successful implementation of a master’s degree for experienced nonspecialist doctors through the Senior Hospitalist Initiative at the University of Newcastle.
“We are trying to persuade the Ministry of Health to pay a fair reimbursement for inpatient care.” —Nin-Chieh Hsu, MD
“Once you adopt a system view of patient care in hospitals, there is no going back,” says Dr. Webber, who was lead author of the hospital skills program curriculum in hospital medicine. “This is an idea whose time has come.”
A pioneering hospitalist program at National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei (NTUH) was established by internists with diverse specializations in pulmonology, nephrology, infectious diseases, and family medicine and is led by Hung-Bin Tsai, MD, and Nin-Chieh Hsu, MD.7,8 Because of relatively low salaries for generalist physicians and a national health insurance program that incentivizes patient access to specialists, 95% of internal medicine doctors in Taiwan have chosen to subspecialize, Dr. Hsu says.
Other barriers to the dissemination of hospital medicine in Taiwan include a shortage of internal medicine residents and resident work-hour restrictions mandated by the country’s Ministry of Health, with resulting heavy work schedules for internal medicine attending physicians, who average 64 hours per week. Advocates believe the hospitalist model could help promote better work-life-salary balance for inpatient physicians.
“We are trying to persuade the Ministry of Health to pay a fair reimbursement for inpatient care,” Dr. Hsu says.
The pioneer hospitalist program at NTUH, developed in 2009 in a 36-bed, hospitalist-run ward, now 70 beds, has this year been joined by more than 20 other hospital medicine programs under an initiative of the Ministry of Health. Auspiciously, the chief of the pioneer hospitalist program at NTUH, Wen-je Ko, MD, PhD, was elected mayor of Taipei earlier this year. A Taiwanese Society of Hospital Medicine should be up and running by late 2015, says Dr. Tsai, who is its chief facilitator. When that happens, organizers expect hospital medicine to finally take off in Taiwan.
The Future Is Now
When Dr. Greeno talks to international hospitalists, he says, “If you’re doing a good job, that creates value for somebody. Find out who that is—that’s where you need to go to get your resources, financial or otherwise. Is it your individual hospital or your national health system? Everybody wants to deliver better care at lower cost. When you do that, that’s your driver for growth.”