Hospitalist Robert Harrington, MD, FHM, knows the feeling. He had a more traditional primary-care practice before entering a HM career, and he understands the intense financial and workload pressures of family practice. Now the vice president of medical affairs for Alpharetta, Ga.-based IN Compass Health Inc. and chair of SHM’s Family Medicine Task Force, he says “there are barriers to hiring because of the wide variability in family physician training.” The root of the problem is that residents in some programs get less hospital time and experience with HM-patient encounters. “In opposed programs, they compete with other specialties and get less time,” Dr. Harrington says. “In unopposed programs, they tend to get more hospital experience and more rotations in inpatient services. Those folks can transition with little to no difficulty to hospital medicine.”
SHM President Scott Flanders, MD, FHM, associate professor and director of the hospitalist program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, sees great value in what FPs can bring to HM. He wants HM to be open to those interested in a career change; however, he agrees physician training and experience can be an obstacle in the recruitment process. “The training in internal medicine is more geared to hospital medicine than it is in family practice [training],” Dr. Flanders says. “FPs must make sure they have hospital training, including the ICU. Many FP programs may not have this.” He also says FPs looking at an HM career—and internists as well—need to be “up to speed” in systems-based practice.
Any doctor, it doesn’t matter who you are, has a role to play in quality improvement.
—Lori Heim, MD, FAAFP, Scotland Memorial Hospital, Laurinburg, N.C., AAFP president-elect
Although they represent a small part of SHM’s membership, Dr. Harrington and his task force want FPs to have “representation and a voice” in the society. “They are a small but growing minority,” he says. “Four or five percent of hospitalists are family-medicine-trained by our membership rolls, but we believe it is a bigger number, as some may not be members of SHM. … We run into more problems with hospital administrators. Some of them insist on IM-trained physicians, and there just aren’t enough IMs out there.”
It’s a C-suite roadblock Dr. Heim is familiar with. “Sometimes there is a parochial view in using internists above family physicians. Why should family doctors be second? It’s a misunderstanding of the experience and what family physicians bring to the table,” she says. “They haven’t done it, so people don’t think they can. Some hospitals are underutilizing family physicians in a hospitalist role. If a physician has hospital privileges, there is no reason they should not be considered to be hired as a hospitalist.”
Tenure of Change
As AAFP president, Dr. Heim says she’ll work to improve working conditions for FPs and fight for her constituents’ rights as Washington debates national healthcare reform. The AAFP and SHM share a number of policy interests, including reimbursement reform, new technologies, and patient-safety initiatives.