O’Rourke, who directs the management of underwriting claims as part of her work at CRICO, believes there is a vast difference between the reasons for claims for internists versus hospitalists.3
“We receive so many failure-to-diagnose cases with internal medicine physicians,” she elaborates. “There have been huge losses associated with them throughout other systems that we’ve seen—some of our own, such as increases in [the rates of] breast cancer or colorectal cancer. You’re not going to see that with a hospitalist unless there’s a post-op complication—bleeding that isn’t caught and failure to diagnose—that kind of issue—soon enough. But they’re still under a surgeon’s care normally.”
O’Rourke recognizes that the care of the hospital patient is a team effort. “So it’s going to be a question of how the hospital defines the hospitalist role for each and every condition or [for] surgical patients,” she says.
If the Hospitalist Sees the Patient
A new claim that ProMutual recently received involves a hospitalist. The allegation is “failure to monitor a patient for suicide.” The claim states that the patient attempted suicide twice by trying to hang herself. The patient was admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital. Although a medical consultation must be done any time a patient is admitted, the hospitalist was not consulted to assess for suicide precautions. The hospitalist’s next involvement was after the attempted suicide when she responded to the code and admitted the patient to the ICU.
Given the lines of protocol, it is likely to be decided that the named psychiatrist was responsible for noting the risks with this patient and the hospitalist’s name will be dropped from the claim. The important thing for hospitalists to know is that because the hospitalist was listed as seeing the patient, she was named in the claim and this is customary procedure.
“A lot of times the plaintiff attorney will note every doctor who has seen the patient over the last number of years,” says Zorola, “because they probably don’t know a lot about the claim either, at that point. So until the investigation is done, and you can perform the depositions and find out exactly who was responsible for what,” the hospitalist will be a part of this process.
The Classification of Hospitalists
The growing trend is that insurance underwriters are creating a separate hospitalist classification. ProMutual underwriters established a classification for hospitalist and placed it in the same rate group as internal medicine physicians. But then the underwriters listened to what some of the hospitalists were saying: that because they are more specialized and are seeing patients who are more aware of the care that should be provided in the hospital, being grouped with physicians who spend most of the their time in office practice was not an accurate way to classify them.