A traditional system of night call (such as pager call from home while also working days) is usually cheaper than dedicated night shifts. And while there are many benefits to having dedicated night shifts, increased patient capacity may not be one of them. Consider the following example:
- On any given day, a five-FTE hospitalist practice has three doctors working, one of whom will be on-call that night by pager;
- That will mean 219 worked days per year for each doctor, one-third of which (73) will be on-call. Each hospitalist gets 146 days off per year;
- The practice decides to switch to dedicated night shifts in which the doctors do not work the day before or after a night shift. The practice wants to retain the 146 days off for each hospitalist. This new coverage arrangement is equivalent to adding 365 shifts annually (one for each night); and
- This will require an additional 1.67 FTE hospitalists (1.67 hospitalists at 219 shifts/year=365).
In this example, by switching from on-call coverage to on-site coverage, the practice increased from five FTEs to 6.67 FTEs. If the daytime work was already enough to keep all three doctors busy, adding 1.67 FTEs for dedicated night shifts may not increase practice productivity or revenue significantly. The practice looks much less productive per FTE (6.67 FTEs are now seeing the volume previously handled by five FTEs) and much costlier.
Changing from traditional night call to dedicated night coverage can be expensive because it may require adding staff yet doesn’t usually increase practice capacity significantly. But it offers other benefits such as those listed in Table 1 (see p. TK). Some practices find they must provide dedicated night coverage to recruit hospitalists. Other institutions choose to support it believing it leads to more timely, efficient, higher-quality care. 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” course. This column represents his views and is not intended to reflect an official position of SHM.
- Miller J, Nelson J, Whitcomb W. Hospitalists: A Guide to Building and Sustaining a Successful Program. Chicago:Health Administration Press;2007:149-150.