Think about whether this is a common problem in your practice. Several strategies might help minimize this bottleneck. The most common approach in a practice of more than about 10 hospitalists is to ensure that there is more than one hospitalist available to admit patients until 10 or 11 p.m. when admission volume typically subsides. This has led some groups to develop an evening “swing shift” from late afternoon until about 10 or 11 p.m.
Large groups may decide to dedicate one hospitalist entirely to the ED from sometime in the morning (e.g., 11 a.m.) until near midnight. This person is available to respond quickly to ED admissions and consult with ED doctors regarding management and disposition of borderline cases. While ED staff are usually thrilled to have a hospitalist for the day, that hospitalist often will need to get help from other hospitalists when several patients must be admitted at the same time. And hospitalist-patient continuity suffers because the patient will nearly always need to be handed off to a different hospitalist for follow-up visits.
Do hospitalists increase the number of marginal or potentially avoidable admissions?
The pre-hospitalist era: The ED physician sees a patient of Dr. Bernstein’s at 1 a.m. and is having trouble deciding whether admission is the best approach. The ED doctor gets Dr. Bernstein or his on-call partner, Dr. Copeland, on the phone and learns this patient is well known to the practice and can be seen in the outpatient office early the next morning. Admission is unnecessary.
The hospitalist era: The ED physician sees the same patient at 1 a.m. Because there is a reasonable chance admission is the best approach, he decides to call the hospitalist first rather than the patient’s PCP. Neither the ED doctor nor the hospitalist knows the patient well, and they are unaware outpatient follow-up with the PCP next morning is an option. After all, most PCPs are already “booked up” and probably unable to work someone in on such short notice. And, it’s tough to be sure the PCP would have all the relevant records regarding the data gathered and decisions made during the ED visit. So the hospitalist and ED doctor agree the best approach is to admit this patient to observation status, when in the pre-hospitalist era the patient might have been safely discharged from the ED for outpatient follow-up.
I fear this is a reasonably common scenario for many hospitalist practices. And yet these marginal admissions are often discharged the next day, lowering the overall length of stay (LOS) for hospitalist patients. By admitting marginal patients, some of whom might have been safely discharged from the ED in the pre-hospitalist era, a hospitalist practice can improve its overall LOS. The hospitalists might be patting themselves on the back for such good performance on LOS by admitting patients who could be discharged.
These two problems are difficult to quantify. If you’re confident these aren’t an issue for your practice, you deserve lots of credit. But I think most practices should think carefully about both issues and work to minimize how often they occur. TH
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988 and is co-founder and past president of SHM. He is a principal in Nelson/Flores Associates, a national hospitalist practice management consulting firm. He is also part of the faculty for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program.” This column represents his views and is not intended to reflect an official position of SHM.