A recently expanded palliative care program at University Hospital in Salt Lake City is the latest window into ancillary revenue streams hospitalists can tap during the continuing economic crisis.
Stephen Bekanich, MD, a hospitalist and medical director of the Utah center's palliative-care team, says his program saves money for the hospital and increases the value of its hospitalists. In October, Dr. Bekanich's team expanded into outpatient clinic treatment one half-day a week. While he plans to study the revenue generated through that month before expanding further, Dr. Bekanich thinks palliative-care teams are a strong revenue source for hospitalists.
"It’s a natural tie-in," he says. "The people that probably win the most with having palliative care established within the hospital is the hospital itself. We see that in our patient satisfaction."
Palliative care can lower hospital expenditures by cutting down on costly procedures that may not improve a patient's quality of life, as well as by trimming lengths of stay, Dr. Bekanich says. In the first half of 2008, Dr. Bekanich's team saved University Hospital about $600,000. The team’s 2008 budget was roughly $330,000 for about 500 encounters.
There are obstacles, though. Because palliative care is a recognized specialty, starting a program requires a hospitalist who is willing—and able—to become certified and hospital administration willing to front expenditures.
"The idea of starting this from scratch is going to become more difficult," Dr. Bekanich says, "but it’s worthwhile."