Patient Care

Nocturnists’ Compensation Puzzles Practice Leaders


Welcome to “Survey Insights,” a new section devoted to exploring and interpreting information from the survey conducted jointly by SHM and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). Each month we will focus on a specific topic, providing not only the survey results, but also background information and commentary from members of SHM’s Practice Analysis Committee.

With this month’s release of the 2010-2011 State of Hospital Medicine report, we now have several useful data points regarding the work of nocturnists in HM. In the survey, nocturnist was defined as an individual hospitalist who predominantly works a schedule providing in-house night coverage for inpatients. The question “Does your practice include nocturnists?” was part of the survey’s HM Supplement, and was answered by 238 of the 307 supplement respondents. As was the case last year, 41% of HM practices responding to the survey reported having nocturnists working in their group.

Although less than half of respondent groups reported having nocturnists, more than 55% of the individual hospitalists in the data set worked in groups with nocturnists. This suggests that nocturnists tend to be found more often in larger HM groups.

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The proportion of night coverage provided by nocturnists varied widely among groups, as can be seen in the chart (see “Percentage of Night Coverage by Nocturnists,” p. 11). Only 16% of the groups with nocturnists used them for all of their night coverage. For about half the groups, the nocturnists provide from one-quarter to three-quarters of the night coverage. This year, data were also obtained on compensation and productivity for 131 nocturnists. Perhaps the most surprising finding is that the median compensation reported for nocturnists in practices that care for adults was $215,000, about 2.5% lower than the median compensation reported for all adult hospitalists. (There was not enough pediatric nocturnist data to report results.)

It’s no surprise, however, that median annual nocturnist productivity was 3,058 wRVUs, about 27% lower than the productivity reported for all adult hospitalists. This suggests that even though median compensation for nocturnists is a bit lower, the “juice to squeeze” ratio for working exclusively at night remains higher than for daytime work.

According to committee member Dan Fuller, president and cofounder of Alpharetta, Ga.-based InCompass Health Inc., “this data supports what we already know: that nocturnists are not as productive as the typical rounding hospitalist. However, they are necessary in most of the larger models, given the need for a physician to be in-house at night for both admissions and emergencies.”

Committee members weren’t sure how to interpret the lower nocturnist compensation, because for many the finding differs from the situation in their own practices. Chris Frost, MD, FHM, vice president of operations for Knoxville, Tenn.-based TeamHealth, postulates that “unless productivity thresholds are adjusted for nocturnists, they will rarely achieve productivity incentives” earned by daytime hospitalists. And PAC member John Nelson, MD, MHM, points out, “There’s more than one way of compensating nocturnists for the inconvenience of working at night. The three nocturnists in our practice, for example, make about the same as everyone else but only work 10 nights a month.”

Leslie Flores, SHM senior advisor, practice management

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