All of this, he says, points to the need for a full certification process by an HM board.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it has not been an impressive evolution to this point, but I think if we are going to meet the expectations, we do have to do more than we’re doing now,” Dr. Michota says.
Some of the gaps in training might be able to be filled by private hospital management groups, which have training programs for their doctors that are made possible by their scale and whose presence is predicted to grow over the next 15 years.
Robert Bessler, MD, who in 2001 founded Tacoma, Wash.-based Sound Physicians, which has become one of the largest private hospitalist organizations in the country, says private companies are able to conduct training that is impossible for many hospitals to conduct themselves.
“You’re going to get good people who are all of good training and good knowledge, but they’re not all going to have experience,” he says, “and so what are the hospitals that are employing 50% of the hospitalists in this country going to do about that? It’s pretty much nothing. They’re going to occasionally send some people to conferences and hope—because they don’t have that infrastructure.”
At teaching institutes like those at private firms, the process is sped up, Dr. Bessler adds.
“That’s why we built our hospitalists’ institute at Sound—to turn really good, quality doctors into effective hospitalists in a much more rapid fashion,” he says. “Because before we built this, it was just get them involved and hope after a couple of years they’ve really become efficient. Our hospital partners and the patients can’t wait that long.”
Robert Reynolds, MD, founder of PrimeDoc, an Asheville, N.C.-based company that provides doctors for 12 hospitalist programs and employs about 100 doctors, says there needs to be more focus on teaching the “realistic side of the business of medicine,” as well as on quality outcomes and patient satisfaction. But he also doubts there will be much change in training.
“[From] my cynical side and the voice of experience, I don’t see any change in the near future,” he says. “What we’re seeing now is physicians come out of residency with a good clinical base, but really having no idea of how the healthcare system works in a bigger picture, how it works as an industry. So we’re having to spend a lot of time and effort training physicians to start thinking like practicing physicians.”
The experts all agree that there will be an increase in hospitalists being provided by private corporations. Dr. Reynolds says that trend will continue in part due to healthcare reform’s emphasis on outcomes for reimbursement and a corporation’s ability to assist with physician training, as well as data and reporting needs.
“More and more hospital compensation and physician compensation is going to be based on actual data, performance data,” he says. “And in order to really do a good job of capturing and reporting that kind of data, you need enough size to support an IT system and training systems that will produce and capture the kind of data that will be necessary.”
Erin Fisher, MD, MHM, a pediatric hospitalist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, says a major goal of the future should be to change the reimbursement structure “so that you have something that is reasonable and encourages appropriate testing, treatments, and coordination of our healthcare system in a systematic way, rather than pieces.” In such a system, hospitalists might see something to prompt them to intervene in a preventive way.