To be great, to best help our patients, to give our hospitals what they want and need, we have to evolve from “internists in the hospital” to hospitalists. Hospitalists are defined not by our clinical effort but rather by our nonclinical effort. This is what hospitals are paying $1.7 million per year for. They had the internist in the hospital model and chose to pay more—they chose the hospitalist model.
To be a great hospitalist group means embracing the nonclinical work that envelops the clinical practice—the process and quality improvement (QI). That is, fundamentally changing the unsafe systems that surround our patients. Making them safer, more efficient and of higher quality.
This takes time.
Time = Money
It takes time to implement a QI project to reduce central line infections in the ICU. Or to develop and implement a VTE prophylaxis order set or an insulin or heparin drip protocol. Or to work closely with nursing to reduce falls on a medical unit. It takes time to be at the pneumonia core measures meeting every Monday at 7 a.m. and the hospital credentialing committee meeting every other Friday at 3 p.m. It also takes time to implement a new electronic health record or roll out the new LEAN project to reduce ED wait times.
This takes time, effort, and bandwidth—the kind that can’t be shoehorned into the average clinical day. This is work that needs to be done primarily during nonclinical hours. It’s the kind of work that defines HM as a field; the kind of work that increasingly determines your hospital’s bottom line; the kind of work that has tremendous value; the kind of work that requires remuneration.
In paying for the hospitalist model, your hospital is paying for the clinical (internist) and nonclinical (hospitalist) work you do. The $1.7 million per year is not a subsidy they pay to keep you in business. It’s the price they must pay to compensate your group for all the nonclinical work you do around quality, safety, efficiency, and leadership.
Q: But what if my group isn’t doing these kinds of things?
A: Then your hospital funding is at risk. The Montana story addresses just such a scenario. Clearly the hospital C-suite in this instance only valued (or was presented with) clinical work. Therefore, they felt that others should subsidize the hospitalist salaries—in this case, the clinic. I don’t know the particulars of this case but deduce this because it would be ludicrous to expect the clinic to pay for the part of the hospitalists’ time spent improving the hospital’s systems of care.
Writing the Final Chapter
At the core of the HM funding model is the concept of subsidy versus compensation. If we are only providing clinical care, then the offset dollars from the hospital to support our salaries is functionally a subsidy—a dollar amount to make up for our collections shortfall. However, if it is support for the nonclinical work we are doing, then it is compensation.
As the story of hospitalist funding is written, the report from Montana should serve as a cautionary tale. Hospital financial pressures likely will focus more scrutiny on the hospitalist financial support model. And as this story plays out, HM groups will be expected to bring more to the table than patient care.
Those that do will live happily ever after.
Those that don’t will be forced to answer the tough question: What’s the difference between an internist in the hospital and a hospitalist? If the answer is nothing, that story will have a decidedly and predictably less happy ending. TH