Now that I have your attention, I hope no one thinks the “40 patients per day” suggestion is in any way SHM current policy. But it is becoming increasingly clear that demands for the hospitalist workforce and demands on ongoing accountability for performance will require a redefinition of the role the hospitalist should have in patient care.
This isn’t unique to HM. In many ways, the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) and accountable-care organizations (ACOs) will in their own ways redefine the physician’s role at many steps along the healthcare continuum. But, as usual, HM might very well be at the leading edge.
Scope of Practice
There just aren’t enough qualified hospitalists to do the work, let alone all of the things coming our way with an ever-expanding scope of practice. Sure, hospitalists will always have a central role in managing the acute care of most medical illnesses. We already manage more inpatient heart-failure patients and more chest pain than cardiologists; more seizures, strokes, and dementia than neurologists; and more diabetes than endocrinologists. In many hospitals, we have replaced PCPs in managing acutely ill patients on medical floors.
But in recent years, hospitalists have played an increasing role in comanaging orthopedic and other surgical patients, and are playing a larger role in the care of patients formerly managed solely by subspecialists. As neurologists have left the building, hospitalists have had to expand our management of patients with acute neurologic problems. And as the critical-care shortage expands, hospitalists are playing a greater role in our nation’s ICUs.
Forward-thinking hospitals are redefining the roles of ED physicians in an era of hospitalists. Patients who present with a temperature of 104, a BP of 90/60, and a pulmonary infiltrate get a 60-second evaluation in the ED and are quickly admitted upstairs to the hospitalists. No need for two to three hours of an ED workup for a patient everyone knows is coming into the house. More and more EDs are routinely using hospitalists as in-house consultants on difficult patient decisions.
As ACOs become commonplace and as hospitals become responsible for the gaps post-discharge, look for some HM groups to be asked to manage the subacute patient experience, those critical first post-hospital visits in the 30 days after hospitalization. PCPs and medical homes will have their own capacity issues and difficulties in managing these fragile patients just out of the hospital.
Add to this all the time hospitalists need to spend each day in developing and implementing performance improvement, and in creating and participating in the new hospital team, it is no wonder that a limited HM workforce is being stretched beyond its capacity.
In many ways, this is a blessing for an individual hospitalist, especially one with a track record of competency and skill. This is at least part of the reason that HM was one of only five medical specialties in which incomes increased in 2009, and why hospitals everywhere are looking for strategies to attract and retain the best talent.
While this trend might bode well for the individual hospitalist looking for career flexibility, the ever-enlarging specialty of HM cannot easily fill all the needs described above, even with a large influx of medical students or residents in internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics, or even with recruitment of additional nonphysician providers. The work is growing too fast and the people just aren’t available.