Hospitalist/Intensivist Model Lowers Costs, Maintains Quality of Care


As the field of HM continues to mature, branch out, and is called upon to lead in the care of a larger cross-section of hospitalized patients, it is only natural that this includes the critically ill patient. Hospitalists already care for—and are the attending of record for—this patient population in most U.S. hospitals. It is my position that a technically proficient hospitalist service, which is facility-exclusive and offers 24/7 coverage, is able to offer the same quality of care as an intensivist group. An important feature of this model is the inclusion and “buy in” from community pulmonologists in order to provide backup and consultative assistance when warranted.

Our program at Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, Fla., has made great strides as we continue to integrate this model in the hospital. We are actively tracking ICU length of stay and throughput, incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), central-line infection rates, and ICU mortality.

I believe that a clinically competent and aggressive HM service is able to drive down costs and generate revenue by establishing clinically beneficial quality-improvement (QI) protocols; drive down ICU length of stay; provide effective and timely procedural services; and incur a lower cost burden (i.e., hospitalists cost less than intensivists). And I believe all of these benefits are available without sacrificing quality or patient care.

Leadership from medical staff and administration is imperative to establish the appropriate vision and drive toward hospitalist/intensivist implementation. Finding the right supporting physicians who bring excitement and energy is equally as important. Establishing expectations for skill sets, as well as the opportunity and mechanism by which these skill sets might be acquired and refined, is a must. The following technical skills should be required of hospitalist/intensivists:

  • Ultrasound-guided central line insertion;
  • PICC line insertion;
  • Endotracheal intubation;
  • Advanced airway management;
  • Thoracostomy tube insertion;
  • Arterial-line insertion;
  • Transvenous pacing wire insertion;
  • Lumbar puncture;
  • Thoracentesis; and
  • Paracentesis.

An important starting point is the identification of skill sets for each hospitalist. Once this information is ascertained, the next step is to understand what the credentialing requirements for the individual procedures are. This usually consists of a certain number of “logged” cases, which must be put forward for review by the medical staff leadership. Most physicians completing residency are required to keep a procedural log where cases are documented. Any deficiencies within the log can be supplemented by establishing a practice log where proctored cases are documented until the recommended number of cases are completed and put forward for credentialing.

Obtaining buy-in from the medical staff is important. They can serve as allies in many areas, specifically as proctors in the credentialing process. The key to successful interface is in awakening them to the beneficial impact a service such as this can have on patients and on the lifestyle of providers.

As an example, before our group started the hybrid model at Westside, the nursing staff would call anesthesia to evaluate patients for endotracheal intubation. This system took anesthesia away from its OR cases, causing delays and frustration. After a conversation, the anesthesia director realized the benefits that would come with assisting the hospitalists in becoming more proficient with intubations. This same scenario has been true in our experience with ED physicians, cardiothoracic surgeons (chest tubes), and so on.

Other resources for hospitalists include the National Procedure Institute, which offers CME credit and certification toward “Hospitalist Procedures.” Additionally, difficult airway or advanced airway courses provide certification.

Hospitalists have long been called on to provide emergency services for unstable patients via rapid response or codes. In many facilities hospitalists serve as the lead physicians in the management of critically ill patients. Our hospitalist model serves as a great launching pad for the development and evolution of this new breed of physician.

There exists no clinical evidence to assert inferiority between the care provided by an in-house, 24/7 hospitalist group with assistance from pulmonary medicine versus an intensivist group. It is my belief that if the appropriate infrastructure, fostered skill sets, pulmonologist partnership, and QI protocols are implemented, there will be no measurable difference in scope of care or outcomes.

The inpatient management of critically ill and unstable patients continues to be a significant and important subgroup of hospital patient populations. As patients continue to live longer with debilitating chronic diseases, the fallout from decompensation can be devastating. Many facilities have hospitalists leading the charge in the care of these patients. It is undeniable that the next evolution in HM will require a more proactive inpatient physician, with both the clinical and technical acumen to manage all patients across the hospital spectrum.

Ulises A. Perez, MD,

medical director, hospitalist division,

Westside Regional Medical Center, Plantation, Fla.,

Kendall Regional Medical Center, Miami

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