There are a number of reasonable ways to compensate the jeopardy doctor. You probably can get some good ideas by talking with others in your hospital who function in a similar capacity, such as cath-lab technicians who get called in on nights and weekends.
No definitive data are available to show how common the jeopardy system is, but my experience is that 30% to 50% of HM groups use some form of it. Its popularity is proof that it is a reasonable system, but I’m not convinced. I think it is in use by a lot of groups not because it is an optimal way to ensure surge capacity, but because it is easy to conceptualize and put in place, and because many hospitalists came from residency programs in which the system was standard.
The gaps between theoretical and realized benefits become evident once a practice implements a jeopardy system. For example, it might be really busy today, but Dr. Stravinsky doesn’t call in Dr. Copeland, who is on jeopardy, because next week their roles will be reversed and Dr. Stravinsky sure hopes he won’t be called in. No one wants to be the weak doctor who calls in the jeopardy doctor and spoils what was otherwise a day off.
I’ve worked with a lot of practices who say they have a jeopardy system in place, but when I ask for the last time the jeopardy doctor was called in, they say it has been more than a year, or in some cases never. So even if the policy manual says they have a jeopardy system, the doctors never activate it, so it provides no benefit.
Practices that do utilize the jeopardy doctor have their own problems, such as assigning that doctor’s admissions the next day. The jeopardy doctor might provide some relief today, but they essentially just delay the work of having to get to know all of those new patients until the morning, when everyone is very busy with rounds. So while there might be significant benefit in activating the jeopardy system today, it could just delay the problem of high workload until the next morning, which isn’t much of a net benefit for the practice.
A small number of practices call in the jeopardy doctor frequently, and sometimes have that doctor continue to round on admitted patients for the next few days. This usage might get the most value out of the system, but the practice should consider if it is more cost-effective, and less stressful for the doctors, if the system were reversed. For example, instead of having the doctor on jeopardy and called in as necessary, the doctor would report to work and be given the day off or let go early when it isn’t busy.
Despite my reservations, if you are convinced the jeopardy system is valuable and cost-effective, keep it in place. However, if your group is thinking about options to handle surge capacity, don’t be too quick to adopt a jeopardy system. It usually falls far short of a perfect solution.
Patient Volume Cap
Another way to address the problem of unpredictable increases in patient volume is to establish a patient volume (e.g., total census) cap for the whole hospitalist practice. Like the jeopardy system, this is an appealingly uncomplicated idea, and hospitalists who have finished residency within the last few years all worked with a cap.
Except for the rarest of exceptions, this is a poor idea and should be avoided if at all possible. I’ll leave for another time a discussion of all the political and financial costs of a cap system, but trust me on this one. It is best to avoid a cap.