Rising pressure to contain healthcare costs, increasing demands for safety and quality improvement, more focus on institutional accountability: In 2010, healthcare experts expect several dominant themes to continue converging and moving hospitalists even more to the center of key policy debates.
Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, medical director of the Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care and director of the Quality and Safety Research Group at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, sees three big themes moving to the fore. One is a greater focus on outcome measurements and accountability for performance, and he expects both carrots and sticks to be wielded. “So, both payment reform and social humiliation, or making things public,” Dr. Pronovost says. “Two, I see a lot more focus on measures that are population-based rather than hospital-based, so looking more at episodes of care.” The shift will force hospitalists to expand their purview beyond the hospital and, he says, partner more with community physicians to develop and monitor performance in such areas as transitions of care and general benchmarks of care.
Dr. Pronovost also expects “significant pressure on both the provider organization and individual clinician being paid less for what they do.” Finding ways to minimize costs will be a priority as payors increase scrutiny on expenses like unnecessary hospital readmissions. But hospitalists, he says, are better positioned than many other physicians to play a key role in the drive toward efficiency while also improving healthcare quality and safety. “I think hospitalists’ roles are going to go up dramatically,” Dr. Pronovost adds, “and I hope the field responds by making sure they put out people who have the skills to lead.”
Nancy Berlinger, PhD, deputy director and research scholar at The Hastings Center in Garrison, N.Y., cites end-of-life care as another theme likely to gain traction in 2010. As project director of the center’s revised ethical guidelines for end-of-life care, Dr. Berlinger notes how often clinicians in her working group have invoked the hospitalist profession. It’s no accident. “Hospitalists are increasingly associated with the care of patients on Medicare,” she says, adding Medicare beneficiaries are far more likely to be nearing the end of life.
Demographics suggest that connection will continue to grow in 2010 and beyond. Dr. Berlinger points to a 2009 New England Journal of Medicine study showing that the odds of a hospitalized Medicare patient receiving care from a hospitalist increased at a brisk 29.2% annual clip from 1997 through 2006.1 And while the U.S. faces a shortage of geriatricians, HM is growing rapidly as a medical profession. “By default, whether or not hospitalists self-identify as caring for older Americans,” Dr. Berlinger says, “this is their area of practical specialization.”
With that specialization comes added responsibility to assist with advanced-care planning and helping patients to document their wishes. Similarly, she says, it means acknowledging that these patients are more likely to have comorbid conditions and identify with goals of care. “I don’t think there’s any way around this,” she says. “Medicare and hospitalists, whether by accident or design, are increasingly joined at the hip. That is something that hospitalists, as a profession, will always need to keep their eye on.”
A parallel trend is that other doctors increasingly view hospitalists as hospital specialists. “The hospitalist’s responsibilities are not just in terms of the patients they care for, but also in terms of the institution itself,” Dr. Berlinger says. Non-staff physicians, for example, expect hospitalists to know how a hospital’s in-patient care system works. Practically speaking, as electronic medical records (EMR) become more commonplace, hospitalists will be increasingly relied upon to understand a hospital’s information technology.