Other measures like the effectiveness of communication and seamlessness of handoffs often are assessed through their impacts on patient outcomes. But Sunil Kripalani, MD, MSc, SFHM, chief of the section of hospital medicine and an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., says communication is now a primary focal point in Medicare’s new hospital value-based purchasing program (VBP). Within VBP’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) component, worth 30% of a hospital’s sum score, four of the 10 survey-based measures deal directly with communication. Patients’ overall rating and recommendation of hospitals likely will reflect their satisfaction with communication as well. Dr. Kripalani says it’s inevitable that hospitals—and hospitalists—will pay more attention to communication ratings as patients become judges of quality.
The expertise of hospitalists in handling challenging patients also leads to improved quality over time, says Shai Gavi, DO, MPH, chief of the section of hospital medicine and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in Brookhaven, N.Y. Hospitalists, he says, excel in handling such high-stakes medical issues as gastrointestinal bleeding, pancreatitis, sepsis, and pain management that can quickly impact patient outcomes if not addressed properly and proficiently. “I think there’s significant value to having people who do this on a pretty frequent basis,” he says.
And because of their broad day-to-day interactions, Dr. Gavi says, hospitalists are natural choices for committees focused on improving quality. “When we sit on committees, people often look to us for answers and directions because they know we’re on the front lines and we’ve interfaced with all of the services in the hospital,” he says. “You have a good view of the whole hospital operation from A to Z, and I think that’s pretty unique to hospitalists.”
In a recent issue brief by Lisa Sprague, principal policy analyst at the National Health Policy Forum, she asserts, “Hospitalists have the undeniable advantage of being there when a crisis occurs, when a patient is ready for discharge, and so on.”12
So is “being there” the defining concept of hospital medicine, as she subsequently suggests?
Based on both scientific and anecdotal evidence, the contribution of hospitalists to healthcare quality might be better summarized as “being involved.” Whether as innovators, navigators, physician champions, the “sweet spot” of interdepartmental partnerships, the “glue” of multidisciplinary teams, or the nuclei of performance committees, hospitalists are increasingly described as being in the middle of efforts to improve quality. On this basis, the discipline appears to be living up to expectations, though experts say more research is needed to better assess the impacts of HM on quality.