I think 70% to 80% of U.S. hospitals now have a hospitalist practice. (Some have more than one hospitalist group operating within their walls.) I arrived at this estimate by relying on both my anecdotal experience and on the annual American Hospital Association survey, which in 2009 showed 58% of hospitals have hospitalists, with an ongoing rapid rate of adoption.
No regular reader of The Hospitalist should be surprised that most U.S. hospitals now have hospitalists, but some might be surprised that 20% to 30% don’t. There are about 5,800 hospitals in the U.S. (a ballpark figure), so that means about 1,100 to 1,800 don’t have hospitalists. What is unique about them?
For some hospitals, the answer is easy. For example, the U.S. has something like 450 psychiatric hospitals. They vary a lot, but many simply don’t accept patients with active medical problems, so these facilities would have little need for medical hospitalists.
Variations in how the term “hospitalist” is used probably account for some facilities reporting no hospitalists. For example, long-term acute-care hospitals (LTACs) might have dedicated inpatient providers but simply don’t call them hospitalists.
Even accounting for these things, there are still a lot of “med-surg” hospitals that say they don’t have hospitalists.
My experience suggests the two most important reasons some hospitals have not yet developed a hospitalist practice are an oversupply of primary-care physicians (PCPs) and an attractive payor mix in the unassigned patient population. In fact, it is hard for me to imagine a hospital that enjoys both of these attributes ever being able to support hospitalists.
Although it isn’t a common problem, an excess of PCPs (or dearth of patients) removes the most universal and powerful stimulus to develop a hospitalist practice: the desire of PCPs to be relieved of hospital work. And in most cases, those PCPs can offset the loss of hospital work and its associated revenue, with more work in the office. This can mean a better lifestyle (e.g. no trips to the hospital on nights and weekends) and the same or higher income. But if there are too many PCPs in the community, they may be unwilling to give up the hospital work, as there might be no way to replace it in the office. End result: no hospitalists.
For the rare hospital that has an attractive ED-unassigned payor mix, PCPs are more likely to want to continue taking ED call and not support a proposal to develop a hospitalist practice. And access to the ED call roster can be important to new PCPs building a community practice. I have seen situations in which a hospital has addressed the poor reimbursement of unattached ED admissions by paying PCPs to provide that care. Even though that same hospital might want a hospitalist practice, the ED call payment it is providing to PCPs may create a barrier that can’t be overcome. Such a hospital will face the very difficult decision of terminating the payments for ED call and redirecting that money to a hospitalist practice—something that is likely to lead to a lot of frustration on the part of PCPs who depend on the pay-for-call arrangement. A common outcome: no hospitalists.