Practice Economics

Eliminations Hospitalist Groups Should Consider




Editor’s note: Second in a continuing series of articles exploring ways hospitalist groups can cut back.

In last month’s column, I made the case that most hospitalist groups should think about doing away with a morning meeting to distribute overnight admissions and changing a daytime admitter shift into another rounder and having all of the day rounders share admissions. Here I’ll describe additional things in place at some hospitalist groups that should probably be eliminated.

Obscuring Attending Hospitalist Name

Some hospitalist groups admit patients to the “blue team” or “gold team” or use a similar system. I encountered one place that had a fuchsia team. Such designations typically take the place of the attending physician’s name and can be convenient when one hospitalist goes off service and is replaced by another; the team name stays the same. Even if the attending hospitalist makes up the entire team (i.e., no residents or students), some groups use the “team” name rather than the attending hospitalist name.

But when the patient’s chart, sign on the door, and other identifying materials all refer only to the team that is caring for the patient, the patients, their families, and most hospital staff don’t have an easy way to identify the responsible physician. Say a worried daughter steps into the hall to ask the nurse, “Which doctor is taking care of my dad?” The nurse might readily see that the blue team is responsible but may not know which hospitalist is working on the blue team today and might have to walk back to the nursing station to look over a sheet of paper (a “decoder ring”) to figure out the hospitalist’s name.

This scenario has all kinds of drawbacks. To the daughter, the name of the doctor in charge is a big deal. It doesn’t inspire confidence if the nurse can’t readily say who that is. And the busy nurse might forget to investigate and provide the name to the daughter in a timely way.

I don’t see any room for meaningful debate on this. The rounder who picks up a patient admitted the night before should always make a full rounding visit, even if the admission was after midnight.

I think groups using a system like this should seriously consider replacing team names with the attending hospitalist name and updating that name in the medical record, whether that is an EHR, a paper chart, or some other form, every time that doctor rotates off service and is replaced by another. Hospital staff, patients, and families should always see the name of the attending physician and not an uninformative color or nondescript team name.

It will require work for someone, the hospitalist in many cases, to go into the EHR and write an order or send a message to ensure that the hospitalist name is kept current every time one doctor replaces another. But it’s worth the effort.

Day Hospitalists Should Round on Patients Admitted after Midnight

Although not exactly common, I’ve come across this scenario often enough that it’s worth mentioning.

Hospitalists, sometimes with a hint of indignity or even chest thumping, have told me they don’t visit or round on patients admitted after midnight by their night doctor. “You can’t bill for a second visit on the same calendar day,” they explain, firmly. “So if I can’t get paid to see the patient, then I won’t.”

This is just crazy.

For one thing, these same doctors are typically employed by the hospital and are being paid to provide whatever care patients need. I think they’ve just latched onto the “can’t bill another visit” as an excuse to get out of some work.

Don’t forget that many of these patients may wait over 30 hours from their admitting visit to the first follow-up visit; this delay is at the beginning of their hospital stay, when they might be most unstable. And it delays initiation of discharge planning and other important steps in patient care.

I don’t see any room for meaningful debate on this. The rounder who picks up a patient admitted the night before should always make a full rounding visit, even if the admission was after midnight.

But if the visit isn’t billable, you are freed from the typical billing-related documentation requirements. No need to document detail in the note that doesn’t meaningfully contribute to the care of the patient. For example, you might omit a chief complaint for this encounter.

Daytime Triage Doctor

Practices larger than about 20 full-time equivalents often have one daytime doctor hold a “triage” or “hot” pager, which others call to make a new referral. This triage doctor will hear about all referrals and keep track of and contact the hospitalist responsible for the next new patient. This can be a very busy job and often comes on top of a full clinical load for that doctor.

As I mentioned in my July 2015 and December 2010 articles, in many or most groups, a clerical person could take over this function, at least during business hours.

Vacation Time

In many or most cases, hospitalists that have specified vacation time are not getting a better deal than those that have no vacation time. What really matters is how many shifts you’re responsible for in a year. For the days you aren’t on shift, in most hospitalist groups it really doesn’t matter whether you label some of them as vacation days or CME days.

I discussed this issue in greater detail in my March 2007 article.

But if you’re in the 30% of hospitalist groups that have a vacation (or PTO) provision currently and it works well, then there certainly isn’t a compelling reason to change or do away with it.

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

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