It is hard to think of medical hospitalists as the establishment, but with more than 30,000 hospitalists nationwide working at most U.S. hospitals, HM is a firm part of today’s medical practice. While, dare I say, “traditional” HM is still very much in its evolution, other specialties of HM have not only cropped up on the scene, but some also have developed enough of a presence to be worthy of drawing some early conclusions.
OB-GYN hospitalists, also known as laborists, now practice at more than 100 hospitals in more than 35 states, according to http://obgynhospitalist.com. In many ways, the OB hospitalist movement is tracking the HM movement of 10 years ago. Although there are several similarities, there are more differences than just what the doctors do in their medical practices.
New “Partners” Drive Down Costs
HM has been driven as much by hospital payment by DRGs as anything else. As hospitals realized that hospitalists could better utilize resources and still maintain quality, the ability to reduce length of stay allowed hospitals to have the capital to support the early development of HM groups.
In obstetrics, the ability of laborists to reduce liability risks, and therefore malpractice premiums, for the hospital is a major driver of the recent growth in OB-GYN hospitalist groups. Some hospitals have been able to reduce the amount they must hold in reserve for future OB-related malpractice claims by more than $1 million after the first year of starting a laborist program. Additionally, hospitals’ annual malpractice premiums have dropped significantly.
Availability of on-site hospitalists has played a crucial role in this new delivery model for most of the hospitalist specialties. For hospitals with laborists, this has meant a significant decrease (for some, a total relief) in unattended deliveries, which in some hospitals was as high as 10% before the new breed of hospitalist arrived on the scene. This 24/7 obstetrician presence has reduced complications from many labor and delivery emergencies, and has led to improved patient safety and improved overall performance at the crucial moment of delivery. This is especially true for high-risk and emergency situations.
Just as in the rest of HM, the 24/7 availability has been complementary, not competitive, to community-based obstetricians: Unassigned patients now have someone to deliver their baby; community obstetricians have a hospital-based “partner” who is ready to fill any gaps in the community obstetricians’ presence in the hospital; and there is a ready assistant surgeon to those patients who require a C-section delivery.
Solution to the Insane Schedule?
The advent of laborists also has created some key professional options for established OB-GYN physicians, as well as for those just coming out of training. Some older obstetricians would stop delivering babies altogether, even though they enjoyed that part of their practice, because of the time demands on having to simultaneously deliver babies randomly in the middle of the night, then show up the next day for a full gynecology surgery schedule or office practice. Their only option seemed to be to concentrate on gynecology and shelve the obstetrics. Now, community obstetricians can partner with the laborists and still provide prenatal care and perform some deliveries, or they can leave their private OB-GYN practice altogether and become full-time OB hospitalists.