If a busy doctor is a happy doctor, then the hospitalists in the Methodist Medical Group at Methodist Hospital in Oak Ridge, Tenn., are ecstatic. Chris Frost, MD, the hospital medicine group’s chief hospitalist and medical director, has seen the group’s average daily census climb to 70, then 90, and now 100 patients. Fortunately, the group is growing, too, from nine full-time employees in late October 2005 to 12 before year-end, a projection for 15 by first quarter 2006, and several intensivists to help by March.
The hospital itself has grown as well: It’s in the midst of a $40 million renovation and expansion started in 2004. By August 2006, Methodist Medical will have 230 new private rooms, 12 beds in a new acute care unit, and an emergency department twice the size of its predecessor.
As a 24/7 hospitalist program, we help the medical community to be more profitable by enabling them to see more patients in the office and doing more procedures in the hospital. Better communication between physicians, patients, and their families benefits everyone and, we hope, will grow Methodist’s market share.
—Chris Frost, MD
How It Started
Methodist Medical Group has been shaped by Oak Ridge’s traditions and demographics. Nestled between the Great Smokey and Cumberland Mountains, Oak Ridge was one of three research and production sites for the Manhattan Project (an effort by the United States, in conjunction with Canada and the United Kingdom to develop nuclear weapons). At its height, Oak Ridge had 75,000 inhabitants. Now its population is 28,000, with a Medicare age group that comprises 42% more of its population than the average Tennessee city. It continues as a magnet for scientists, and its physicians—both office-based and hospitalists—form a close-knit community.
Given its dynamics and demographics, when Oak Ridge’s primary care physicians asked Methodist Hospital in 1993 for help in admitting their patients, the hospital responded affirmatively. Hospital President Jan McNally, BSN, MHA, recalls how things unfolded. “Dr. Richard Dew, a highly respected primary practice physician with a busy office, wanted to change his life. His son had died and he decided to close his office, but he wanted to stay in medicine in Oak Ridge. He agreed to practice inpatient medicine at Methodist,” she explains. “The beauty of it was that he was universally respected. Barriers to the program fell because the admitting doctors and the patients all knew him.”
When Dr. Dew retired in 2002, Anthony Garton, MD, who closed his solo practice to join Dr. Dew as Methodist’s second hospitalist, stayed on. Dr. Garton became a hospitalist because “office procedures just brought me to break even financially. Only the things I did that didn’t have office overhead, such as being medical director at a nursing home and doing physicals for Boeing, made sense financially.” Dr. Garton, who worked with a nephrology group for 13 years, made a smooth transition to a hospitalist career.
From the hospitalist program’s inception, Methodist turned to Team Health, Inc., of Knoxville, an outsourcer of medical personnel, for staffing. Team Health Vice President Kenneth Burns saw a natural fit; his firm already supplied Methodist’s emergency department physicians.
“We understood the problems faced by Methodist’s ED docs,” says Burns. “Patients got stuck there and couldn’t be admitted rapidly to inpatient floors.”