For those of you who were kind enough to catch my column in last month’s issue of The Hospitalist (see “What Is Your Value,” p. 56), you spent a few minutes reading my thoughts on the value of hospitalists. I mentioned the fact that the U.S. is moving rapidly toward a value-based system of purchasing healthcare, and that all healthcare providers, including hospitalists, increasingly will be judged on the value of care they deliver to their patients and the healthcare system. (Remember, value=quality/cost.)
Hospitalists, like all other healthcare providers, can increase their “value” by improving the quality of care they provide and decreasing the cost of healthcare delivery. Seems simple enough, right? Take better care of patients and do so while minimizing unnecessary costs. (If you have figured out how to do this, I want to learn from you!)
As a doctor and as the leader of the hospitalist group at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, I have given this topic considerable thought. How do I become a “high value” provider? How do I help my hospitalist colleagues become “high value” hospitalists? Another persistent thought that has crossed my mind is: “How do I know that I am not already a high-value hospitalist?”
Maybe all of my hospitalist colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are high-value providers. Seems fair enough, right? Maybe each of us is providing “high quality” care and doing so while minimizing unnecessary costs.
I mean, who really wants to think of themselves as low-quality doctors spending a considerable amount of unnecessary resources?
Like many of you, it became evident to me that the first step to improving quality and/or decreasing cost is to define “quality” and “cost.”
The First Step
Although it might seem difficult for the individual hospitalist to know the cost of a patient’s hospitalization, such information is available, and your hospital administrator might be willing to share such information with you and your group. But when it comes to quality of care, I think most patients would expect that doctors should understand the definition of “high-quality care.”
So, what is the definition of “high-quality care?” Try asking this question of patients and doctors, and you are likely to get very different answers. Not surprised? Try asking this question just to doctors, and you are likely to get some different answers. (For fun, you could try this exercise with your hospitalist colleagues; I have.)
Honestly, none of us should be alarmed if a group of doctors cannot easily define “high-quality care.” Not being able to do so does not mean these are “bad” doctors. While it may not be easy to define high-quality care, I suspect most of us recognize it when we see it.
The process of defining the quality of care involves capturing the essence of what we see. For example, can we agree that prescribing aspirin for patients with acute coronary syndrome is optimal care? If so, it stands to reason that a patient with acute coronary syndrome who did not receive aspirin received suboptimal care.
This is how a group of hospitalists can go about creating a quality standard. If you are a hospitalist or HM group leader who is interested in improving the quality of care you and your colleagues are providing to your patients, defining a quality standard is the critical first step to process improvement. Do not limit yourself to clinical processes. Although clinical processes are important, so are communication and documentation processes.