The mark of any great society is balance—balance between the production realized today and the preservation of “production capacity” to ensure the same or greater production in the future. HM is not exempt from this fundamental tenet. What we do now in the way of advancing quality, efficiency, and patient safety will matter little if our contributions are not sustained by the generation that follows us.
It is tempting to think that the issue of how we train residents is germane only to universities, but the reality is that it affects us all. There are 126 “university” medical school programs, but there are 384 residency programs, most of which are within community-based hospitals. The result is that most hospitalists encounter resident physicians in some capacity, and all hospitalists will encounter the results of residency training when they welcome a new recruit to their ranks.
The education and socialization of our residents will define the character of the hospitalists of the future. But the “residency” in which most of us trained does not exist anymore: The duty-hours changes and additional training requirements have dramatically changed the landscape of residency training in the past 10 years, and another series of sea changes is underway. As with all things HM, we again have a choice: Be reactive, wait for the dust to clear, and then lament the results, or be proactive and see this change for what it is—an opportunity to improve healthcare quality now, and in the future.
HM felt the impact of the first wave of duty-hours restrictions beginning in 2003, as many training programs opted to employ hospitalists to provide the coverage that could no longer be maintained by residents working under tighter admission caps and duty-hour restrictions. In doing so, hospitalists have provided a valuable service in preserving the integrity of training environments and fidelity to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) regulations (more than 85% of training programs have hospitalists working in their systems). But the model of hospitalists working solely as “resident-extenders” is not sustainable.
First, hospitalists who work solely on nonteaching services are at great risk of burning out, especially if the distribution of patients has been manipulated such that the more interesting patients are funneled away from the hospitalist’s service to the teaching service. Second, there is a risk in perception: In models in which the hospitalist is solely the “overflow cap coverage” or the night-float physician (i.e., the resident-extender), residents come to see hospitalists as the “PGY-4, 5, 6 …” physicians—that is, the physician who becomes a resident for life. The result is a serious pipeline issue for us, as the most talented resident physicians are unlikely to forego subspecialty training for a career in HM if hospitalists are perceived as perpetual residents.
The solution is simple: The hospitalist’s role in training environments has to be more than merely solving admission cap or duty-hour issues. It is fine for hospitalists to operate nonteaching services, but the hospitalist also has to be a part of the fulfillment that comes with overseeing teaching services. Further, residents have to see the hospitalist career for what it actually is: Academic or not, HM is much more than merely clinical service. HM is about the value-added services of system interventions to improve quality and patient safety; it is about developing a career as a systems architect. Getting the best and brightest residents to choose HM as a career is contingent upon residents seeing hospitalists in the training environment who are happy and fulfilled in the execution of this career goal.
The hospitalist’s plight was helped substantially on June 23, when ACGME released for comment the revised Common Program Requirements (www.acgme.org). The duty-hours changes are unlikely to substantially alter hospitalists’ lives; the only significant change was a limitation on intern shift durations to fewer than 16 hours in a row (upper-level residents still operate under the 24+6 hour rule, with increased flexibility to stay longer by volition). But the interesting part of the new requirements is an augmented focus on teaching residents transitions-of-care skills, improving direct supervision of residents, and constructing educational systems that minimize handoffs.
There is no specialty that is as suited as HM for fulfilling these unique (and, as of yet, unmet) requirements. Transitions, quality, being present on the hospital wards … this is what we do. And requiring instruction in transitions and quality is an unprecedented leverage point for HM to advance the quality of future physicians. How great it would be to attend HM20 and realize that the attendees had already learned the “Quality 101” lessons (i.e., those we are currently teaching at our annual meeting) as part of their residency? Freed from the need to do basic quality sessions, the content of the annual meeting could escalate to even higher-level principles that would result in substantial and sustainable quality improvement (QI).
MedPAC and GME Funding
Simultaneous with the ACGME changes are changes at the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC), the advisory organization responsible for recommending changes in the distribution of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) funds to support graduate medical education. CMS is the primary funding agent for residency training. Each hospital receives direct medical expenditures to cover a resident’s salary and benefits. Each hospital has a pre-set per-resident allotment, or PRA. This number varies by hospital, but the average is $100,000 per resident. CMS reimburses the hospital a percentage of this number based upon the percentage of hospital days occupied by Medicare patients (e.g., 35% Medicare days=$35,000 per resident).
The hospital also receives indirect medical expenditures, or IME. IME is not a distinct payment to the hospital, but rather an “inflator” of the clinical-care payments the hospital receives from CMS. IME is paid to the hospital under the presumption that a typical training facility incurs greater cost due to higher patient severity, a higher indigent care percentage, and has higher resource utilization due to residents’ excessive testing, etc. The final presumption is that support is needed for the educational infrastructure (i.e., supervision and teaching).
IME is not inconsequential to a hospital; depending upon the payor mix, a 200-bed hospital might have from $4 million to $8 million in annual IME payments. CMS’ total IME payments to hospitals is more than $6 billion a year. Each hospital’s IME revenue can be found at www.graham-center.org/online/graham/home/tools-resources/data-tables/dt001-gme-2007.html.
The game-changing event occurred in April, when MedPAC announced its intent to reassess the mechanisms of IME funding, with a vision of IME funding eventually being linked to a hospital’s training programs’ ability to demonstrate substantial improvement in quality and patient safety. And here is the leverage point that is a unique opportunity for hospitalists in the training environment. For many hospitalists, especially if employed directly by the hospital, there is little financial incentive to engaging on a teaching service. The ACGME caps limit the service size, and this in turn limits the possible RVUs. Up until now, asking the hospital to compensate for teaching time (i.e., EVUs) was a pipe dream. But the linking of IME funding to quality outcomes (and quality instruction to residents) could change all of that.
If you put the two together: ACGME calling for instruction in quality and transitions, plus MedPAC calling for payments linked to resident outcomes in quality and patient safety, you have one inescapable conclusion—the residency of the future will hinge upon having supervisors with the necessary expertise to ensure that residents participate in, and understand the principles of, patient safety and quality as a part of the residency curriculum. And the people who can ensure that goal are likely to be in a position to warrant compensation for doing so.
Who is better to do this than the hospitalist?
SHM’s Proactive Strategy
This is the opportune time for HM to advance its stature as a profession and to ensure its future via a pipeline of residents adequately training in quality and patient safety. But it is not enough to merely wish for this to happen. There are real barriers that have kept hospitalists from being more intimately involved in physician training, the first of which is age.
HM is a young specialty (the average hospitalist is 37; the average HM leader is 41), and its youth makes it hard to compete with older subspecialists/generalists who have more experience in education. But deficits in experience can be compensated by additional training.
The Academic Hospitalist Academy (AHA)—cosponsored by SHM, the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM), and the Association of Chiefs and Leaders of General Internal Medicine (ACLGIM)—is the key to the strategy of catching up quickly. The academy will convene this month outside of Atlanta, and it is very important that each training facility think about sending one of its hospitalists to receive the advanced training in education necessary to compensate for not having years of experience in medical education. Academy details are available at http://academichospitalist.org.
SHM’s initiatives on this front do not stop with the academy. Over the past three months, Kevin O’Leary, MD, and his Quality Improvement Education Committee have been furiously building a “Quality and Patient Safety” curriculum, with a target audience of new hospitalists and resident physicians. The vision is to create a Web-based, interactive curriculum that teaches resident physicians the basics of quality and patient safety, design projects with their colleagues (under the supervision of their hospitalist mentor), and track their data to see real-time results.
Unlike other curricula on the market, the SHM Quality Curriculum for residents will be dynamic, requiring participating institutions commit to SHM’s modus operandi of mentored implementation by sponsoring a hospitalist to receive the training necessary to put the curriculum in motion. To this end, SHM has collaborated with the Alliance for Internal Medicine (AIM) in co-sponsoring the Quality Academy, with a focus on how to teach quality and patient safety. Jen Meyers, MD, FHM, and Jeff Glasheen, MD, SFHM, will be leading the team responsible for the development of this Quality Training Course, which should emerge in the fall of 2011.
As this project proceeds, Paul Grant, MD, chair of the Early Career Hospitalist Committee, and Cheryl O’Malley, MD, chair of the Pipeline Committee, will provide counsel. Both of these groups will continue efforts to improve the process by which residents transition from residency to HM practice, and supporting young physicians with distance mentoring.
The SHM vision of our production capacity is simple: Bring in the best and brightest hospitalists who are interested in teaching quality and patient safety, train them in the fundamentals of medical education, provide them with an “off the net” curriculum for how to teach quality, then return them to their respective training environments to coach residents on the principles of quality.
Training programs that invest in this vision will reap the rewards of fidelity to the new ACGME requirements. Hospitals that support such a vision will receive assurances, should MedPAC’s recommendation come to fruition, that DME and IME funding is secure. Hospitalists investing in this vision will find a fulfilling career in quality education.
And all of us will find assurances that, for as good as things are right now for HM, the future will be even better. TH
Dr. Wiese is president of SHM.