The good news is that leaders in our field have done something about this. Project BOOST (Better Outcomes for Older Adults through Safer Transitions) is a program SHM has helped implement at dozens of hospitals across the country to address the issue of unnecessary hospital readmissions (www.hospitalmedicine. org/boost). Improving transitions of care and preventing unnecessary readmissions should be on the minds of all hospitalists. If your program and your hospital have not yet taken steps to address this issue, please let this be your wake-up call.
Show Me the Money
For those who say they would pay $50 more per patient if the quality is better, here’s the problem: Show me the data that say hospitalist care is higher-quality. I agree with you that it is hard to look at costs without looking at quality. Therein lies the basis for our nation’s move toward value-based purchasing of healthcare (see “Value-Based Purchasing Raises the Stakes,” May 2011).
When I hear hospitalists explain why the role of hospitalists was developed, the explanation often involves some discussion of cost and LOS reduction. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I believe HM has focused too much attention on cost reduction. I believe we have not focused enough on improving quality. This should not be surprising. Moving the bar on cost reduction is a lot easier than moving the bar on quality and patient safety. The first step toward improvement is an understanding of what you are doing currently. If your hospitalist group has not implemented a program to help its hospitalists measure the quality of care being provided, again, this is your wake-up call.
Last, but not least, for those of you who are not “surprised” by the results because of the belief that hospitalists were created to help the hospital save money and nothing more, I could not disagree with you more. I look at the roles that hospitalists have taken on in our nation’s hospitals, and I am incredibly proud to call myself a hospitalist.
Hospitalists are providing timely care when patients need it. Hospitalists are caring for patients without PCPs. Not only do hospitalists allow PCPs to provide more care in their outpatient clinics, but hospitalists also are caring for patients in ICUs in many places where there are not enough doctors sufficiently trained in critical care.
Rather than acting as an indictment on HM, I believe the Annals article makes a comment on the misalignment of incentives in our healthcare system.
It is 2011, not 1996; HM is here to stay. Most acute-care hospitals in America could not function without hospitalists. I applaud Kuo and Goodwin for doing the research and publishing their results. Let this be an opportunity for hospitalists around the country to think about how to implement systems to improve transitions of care and the quality of care we provide.
Dr. Li is president of SHM.