More than 20 years before the term hospitalist was coined, the Brockie Medical Group, a strong internal medicine practice led by Benjamin Hoover, MD, relished its hospital work at York Hospital in York, Pa. Back then, the doctors didn’t call themselves hospitalists, but the time they spent on hospital duties made them the forebears of today’s hospitalists.
According to John McConville, MD, chairman of York Hospital’s department of medicine and a hospital fixture since 1976, some of Brockie Internal Medicine group’s physicians devoted 60% to 70% of their practice time to inpatient tasks. “That was the culture when I arrived on the scene,” he recounts. Shortly thereafter, the group grew stronger when The Brockie Internal Medicine Group’s main competition—a sizable family practice group—fell apart. Brockie absorbed its like-minded physicians.
The Brockie Internal Medical Group is firmly anchored in York, Pa., home to factories that produce barbells and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. York has a soft side, though—it produced the first Peppermint Pattie, a mint-chocolate candy. It is an affordable, rapidly growing suburb, a place where commuters to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., can have a comfortable lifestyle without big city housing prices and the hassles of urban life.
The medical community is close-knit, described by Jonathan Whitney, MD, a Brockie hospitalist leader, as “a collegial environment with a growing population and plenty of patients, so there’s not a sense of competition among physicians.” Dr. Whitney, along with William “Tex” Landis, MD, and Michael Lamanteer, MD, form the Brockie Hospitalist Group’s executive committee, elected decision makers who deal with WellSpan Health and York Hospital on behalf of their colleagues.
As York grew, so did the Brockie Internal Medical Group. Then came managed care in the 1980s and 1990s, and Brockie’s internists were not happy. “We saw the medical landscape changing everywhere, and we didn’t want managed care pushing us around,” explains Dr. Landis, a Lancaster, Pa., native and now the Brockie Hospitalist Group’s lead physician. “Analyzing how medicine was changing, we felt vulnerable as a single specialty group. We considered various scenarios for becoming a multi-specialty practice, but decided that wasn’t right for us.”
So, in 1995, five group partners decided to sell the practice to WellSpan Health, an integrated nonprofit healthcare system located in South Central Pennsylvania. Their expectation? That WellSpan’s administrative support and financial muscle would protect them against managed care’s encroachment.
Affiliating with WellSpan Health aligned Brockie with the medical services line of York Hospital, providing the administrative support they needed to grow and thrive. Working together, Brockie’s medical leaders and WellSpan administrators oversee the following areas: strategic planning; budgeting, compensation, benefits, and incentives; collections and coding; care management and performance improvement; recruiting and other personnel issues; and scheduling and coverage.
The Hospitalist Program
York Hospital and its surrounding community continued to grow, as did the need for more office-based and inpatient physician services. By 2001, York Hospital’s top executives recognized that a dedicated hospitalist group was the best solution for its overflowing emergency department (ED), booming admissions, and climbing average daily census. As specialists in internal medicine already heavily involved in inpatient care, the Brockie Internal Medical Group was York Hospital’s obvious choice to pioneer a hospital medicine program. Five Brockie physicians chose to join the newly minted inpatient hospital group (the Brockie Hospitalist Group), with four others continuing outpatient care. Over time, seven more hospitalists came on board, with more anticipated in late 2006 through mid-2007.
Part of the York Hospital mindset is that the demand for inpatient services would keep climbing as the community continued to attract newcomers. An unanticipated consequence of having a hospital medicine program was that outpatient practices quickly grew by 20% because they had offloaded their hospital work, in turn generating more hospital admissions. Brockie and York leaders, recognizing the possibility of stress and burnout on hospitalists as their volume of work grew, took steps to avert problems. “We’re in a sustained growth mode and we need the hospitalists to be satisfied with their compensation and schedules to be able to recruit new physicians,” says Dr. McConville. “Hospital administration underwrites the hospitalist program’s shortfall so that we can pay [the hospitalists] a salary commensurate with MGMA [Medical Group Management Association] guidelines plus productivity. It’s a substantial amount annually and well worth it,” he adds.
Unlike many hospitalist programs, York Hospital’s did not arise because physicians wanted to avoid driving to the hospital to make rounds. “Some groups are five minutes away and they gave us their inpatient work, while a group that’s 45 minutes away still does hospital rounds. What drives physicians here is their view of continuity of care,” says Dr. McConville.
Brockie is York’s only hospitalist group, although three other medical groups have hired two doctors to handle their inpatient work. “It’s not a problem for us. We don’t have a sense of competition,” says Dr. Whitney.
The Nuts and Bolts
Perhaps it’s Brockie’s long tenure as a medical group, its acquisition by WellSpan and the performance expectations that such an acquisition denotes, the thoroughness of its hospitalist leaders, or some combination of the above, but the hospitalists have their schedules and compensation calculations down pat.
Dr. Lamanteer spends much time and thought on the hospitalists’ compensation package. He studies national salary data and factors them into a sophisticated system of relative value units (RVUs) and case-based data to maintain a “competitive compensation package that provides incentives for both our physicians and the hospital to balance productivity with keeping length of stay in check,” he says. That’s not as easy as he makes it sound, because bumping up RVUs and volume has to be balanced with a length of stay that is both efficient and safe for patients.
Compensation begins with base salary—either Level I for 132 hours or Level II for 147 hours over three weeks. Productivity bonuses start with one point awarded for each admission, discharge, consult, and ED evaluation. Point values are then adjusted for average professional revenue generated per patient. The threshold for bonus pay is 806 points. Additionally, three clinical performance criteria, chosen annually, impact the bonus. For example, recent targets include ordering a tentative discharge time one or more days in advance (>65%), abiding by the “do not use” abbreviation list created by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) (>90%), and complying with diagnostic coding rules (>75% accuracy).
The hospitalists’ schedule is challenging, particularly for doctors way past residency, involving 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. shifts on a three-week cycle that starts on a Friday. Physicians work eight 14-hour days, followed by a weekend off, then five days on (Monday-Friday) and six days off (Saturday-Thursday). The hospitalists don’t routinely cover night call. A full-time nocturnist, who started in 1992, and moonlighters cover the 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift seven days a week, with hospitalists covering only for major emergencies.
York Hospital’s ED and a cap on residents’ hours keep the Brockie hospitalists busy. But, early in 2005, it looked as if the workload had reached a plateau. Although Dr. Whitney suspected that the breather wouldn’t last, the group had no evidence that the tempo would increase and voted to maintain the number of hospitalists. The tempo picked up.
“We had estimated an 11 percent growth in RVUs, which actually grew by 23 percent last year,” says Dr. Whitney. Then a large primary care group agreed to shift its inpatient work to Brockie in 2006. Dr. Whitney estimated that assuming that practice’s hospital patients would add 5,000 RVUs and 600 more admissions.
“We realized we could approach a point of stress and burnout with the increased workload, so we recruited two new hospitalists,” says Dr. Whitney.
Still, the hospitalists face a balancing act of census peaks and valleys. “The variations with census and admissions go well beyond the bell curve,” says Whitney, who prepares for crunches by finding volunteers among the hospitalists to cover unexpected peaks.
If Brockie sounds like a Harvard case study on hospitalist medicine, it should. Its long tenure, physician leadership, and administrative support have shaped the business practices that facilitated the program’s growth. For one, the sophisticated compensation/productivity scheme didn’t come about by accident. Dr. McConville, a representative of WellSpan’s medical service line, meets with three Brockie hospitalists to fine-tune the program’s metrics. QI measures that are newly written each year, regular individual feedback, and inclusion of evidence-based guidelines contribute to measures and practices that address many of hospital medicine’s problems.
A Big Step to Little Things
But Brockie isn’t perfect. The responsibility of 24/7 coverage and 14-hour days allows little things to fall through the cracks—things like finding the time to promote the hospitalist service on the Web site, getting new formulary updates out quickly, and immediately informing all of those concerned that a patient has died. Brockie has addressed those and other issues that are the mortar to the bricks of a hospitalist practice by hiring David Orskey, an ex-Navy corpsman, as its senior practice manager in July 2006.
Orskey, co-chair of the medical group’s process improvement committee, sees his work as finding efficiencies, working for better care, and increasing patient satisfaction, plus attending to the budget and human resources issues and networking with outpatient practices.
“Twenty-one years in Navy medicine prepared me for this job,” says Orskey. “I’m enjoying this community, which has everything from farmland to executive homes and an influx of Hispanic migrants.”
He’s able to focus on both the details and the big picture, such as making sure that everyone works toward implementing and using the electronic medical record and improving after-hours answering services, as well as refining credentialing and risk management.
Brockie’s hospitalists also serve Mechanicsburg, Pa.,-based Select Medical Corporation’s long-term acute care (LTAC) unit, a 30-bed unit within York Hospital that supports patients needing a bridge between an acute hospital and skilled nursing care. The patients run the gamut in their needs—some have pulmonary/ventilator issues; others present medically complex situations such as heart failure, multi-system organ impairment, and cancer; some are neurosurgical/post trauma; and others need specialized wound care.
Dr. Whitney explains that all Brockie hospitalists add the LTAC to their rounds, usually leaving them for the end of the day, when the physicians can better attend to their complex situations. “Many of these patients are older, have been in the ICU with complicated medical issues, and face weeks of care in the LTAC before they can go to a nursing home or another long-term care setting,” he says. “It’s a whole different LOS, and it’s good that we have the LTAC because it reduces the hospital’s burden of caring for them as acute patients, when they really need what the LTAC offers.”
Dr. Lamanteer keeps an eye on the Brockie hospitalists’ future. “It’s clear that we benefit patients, that we provide excellent care, and that we need a large subsidy to do it,” he says. And the big picture means keeping focused on the peaks and valleys of admissions and wondering how volume will grow in the next ten years. He’d like to limit the number of 14-hour shifts to help physicians avoid burnout and to limit weekend duty to one out of three (sustainable) or one out of four (heaven). TH
Marlene Piturro is based in New York.