Zorola and his colleagues now see that “setting up a separate classification for [hospitalists] allows us in the future to review their experience and determine whether they ought to be grouped with internal medicines or whether they belong in a lower or higher classification.” Hospitalists might belong in a higher, risk-associated classification “because they are seeing sick patients whereas internal medicine and family practice doctors have a mixture of sick and well patients,” he notes.
In fact, the common assumption is that hospitalists are doing riskier work simply because they work in places in which they have more opportunities to encounter risk. O’Rourke can’t say definitively how many hospitalists CRICO insures. But she can say that few claims involve hospitalists.
“We thought they were a riskier group for a while, but we couldn’t find any evidence of that in our data,” she explains. “We had a couple of claims involving people who were hospitalists, but nothing of concern.”
Whether hospitalists prove to be a riskier group in future research will depend on first determining more precisely what hospitalists do.
What Do Hospitalists Really Do?
“I can imagine that some of [the answer to this question] is that you go find out what works best for the systems you already have in place and develop systems that are needed to really quantify what [hospitalists] are supposed to do,” says O’Rourke. “And that will vary from institution to institution depending on whether it’s a teaching hospital or not.”
But there are other factors and issues at play, some of which are entirely out of control of the insured hospitalist. Barry Halpern, an attorney with Snell and Wilmer Law Firm, whose insured clients are spread over the western half of the United States, says “malpractice insurers, for a variety of reasons, … have many, many classifications for underwriting purposes and others [have] not very many at all. There are marketing issues associated with that and they don’t have a lot to do with the aspects of the specialty.”4
Your Policy Type May Matter
“[A]s you look at this from an insurance perspective, there are pros and cons for having separate insurance for hospitalists and the hospital,” says Halpern. “Where there is separate insurance, there is sometimes greater potential for conflict tension among the provider team than when the insurance is provided on an entity basis, particularly when entity claims against hospitals are a [somewhat] growing trend.”
Halpern notes that, in general, the courts are delivering their verdicts without considering the actual relationship between a hospital and a staff physician.3 “Of course,” he adds, “the courts are hunting for ways to make hospitals responsible on an entity basis rather than specifically for negligence in credentialing, or negligence in supervising, or negligence in providing staff and tools.”
Halpern thinks that in lawsuits where any staff physician is considered as part of the entity of the hospital institution, “it may make sense for the hospitalist to be insured under the hospital’s coverage, so that you minimize the potential for finger-pointing within the hospital-based team.” Besides creating potential tension within the group, Halpern says, “there may be indemnity agreements entered into between the hospitalists and the hospital that shift legal responsibility in a way that is sometimes not as carefully considered at the front end of an arrangement than at the back end, when a problem occurs.”
Halpern says that those kinds of situations must be looked at carefully. “[T]hose kinds of indemnity agreements can lead to a whole world of collateral claims litigation and can sometimes compromise insurance coverage,” he says. “For instance, if a hospitalist group signs an indemnity contract with the hospital without clearing it with the hospitalist’s insurer, the insurer might look at that and say, ‘We didn’t underwrite that additional obligation to defend and pay damages for the benefit of the hospital. And therefore, we deny coverage.’”