Stephanie Grossman, a hospitalist at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, GA, says she discovered personal satisfaction as a young physician in having meaningful conversations about care goals with seriously ill patients and leading family conferences, despite the time pressures of the job. The head of the hospital medicine service at Emory, Mark Williams, MD, told Dr. Grossman there was a name for what she enjoyed doing: palliative care. He encouraged her, along with colleague Melissa Mahoney, to obtain additional training in developing such a program, starting with a 2003 conference in San Diego sponsored by the Center to Advance Palliative Care.
“I came back from San Diego feeling swept away by how it really was possible to develop a financially feasible program,” says Dr. Grossman. Back at Emory, she and Dr. Mahoney joined a palliative care task force formed by Dr. Williams, with representatives from geriatrics, nursing, social work, chaplaincy, finance, and administration. This group provided input for a business plan for the palliative care service that will start in September at Emory Crawford Long and Emory University hospitals.
The 2 hospitalists, who have become certified in palliative medicine, will divide a full-time position as codirectors of the inpatient palliative care service in alternating monthly blocks, along with additional teaching responsibilities. Their 4-year plan is to add additional staffing as the program grows and to work with a geriatrician to develop a palliative care fellowship program. The palliative care team, including a nurse, social worker, and chaplain, will conduct daily palliative care rounds and biweekly interdisciplinary case conferences at the 2 hospitals.
“We have a nurse practitioner involved to help us coordinate between the 2 sites. We’ll go to various departments and do some grand rounds to introduce and market the program,” Dr. Grossman notes. In addition to practicing a style of medicine that offers deeper personal interactions with patients, she is excited to be part of creating a new program. However, she emphasizes the importance of having an executive champion within the hospital who understands financing, institutional politics, and how to recruit other champions. “We’ve been lucky to enjoy the support of Dr. Williams and [Emory Chief Operating Officer] Pete Basler. Dr. Mahoney and I have been working with hospitalists for several years, but our work has all been clinical,” she says.
Another challenge for hospitalists interested in pursuing palliative care include the need to make sure their new responsibilities are not just an add-on to a full-time job. The hospital needs to commit resources for planning and implementing a palliative care program, including a percentage of the hospitalist’s time, Dr. Block says. “Zero FTEs is not viable in the long run,” she adds.
Physician billing for palliative care consults can help offset the costs of running a service, but it is unlikely to break even on billing alone, says Eva Chittenden, a hospitalist and palliative care physician at the University of California-San Francisco, which has operated a palliative care service since 1999. Dr. Chittenden is also part of the Palliative Care Leadership Center at UCSF, which offers 2-day intensive training programs 4 times a year for hospital teams that want to start or strengthen inpatient palliative care services.
In most cases, palliative care requires financial support from the hospital, although it’s not difficult to justify that support by showing cost avoidance, reduced lengths of stay, and improved clinical outcomes, with the help of tools developed by the Center to Advance Palliative Care, Dr. Chittenden says. Program development also challenges the hospitalist’s leadership and marketing skills.