HM11 and the publication of the SHM-MGMA survey on hospitalist productivity and compensation occur every summer, and they always provide lots of new information to get me thinking. Two things stand out this year: Hospitalist demand remains high, and hospitals are paying a lot to have hospitalist services.
Supply and Demand
Along with SHM President Joe Li and Rob Bessler, who is CEO of Sound Physicians, I had the pleasure of presenting a preview of some data from the latest SHM-MGMA survey at the annual meeting May 11 in Dallas. During the session, I asked the large crowd of hospitalists how many were from practices that are actively recruiting additional hospitalists. About 40% of the hands went up.
If 40% of HM groups are actively recruiting, some for more than one open position, that’s a lot of recruiting. But it is dramatically less than the response I got when I asked the same question just three years ago at HM08 in San Diego. At that meeting, nearly every hand in the room went up, indicating everybody was recruiting (see “We’re Hiring,” July 2008, p. 62).
Of course, my show-of-hands survey of attendees at SHM meetings is not a perfect method to assess hospitalist supply and demand. But I think the dramatic change in responses from 2008 to 2011 is meaningful; it also matches what I’m seeing in the marketplace. I hear repeatedly that the years of rapid growth in hospitalist staffing have ended in many or most major metropolitan areas. For example, in places like Seattle (where I practice), Minneapolis, and Boston, there are far fewer open positions now than just two years ago, and most are to replace a departing doctor rather than to increase the overall staffing level.
But the far more numerous smaller markets are still recruiting aggressively in an effort to increase the overall staffing of the practice (and not just replace departing doctors). And changes in resident work-hour limitations are requiring teaching hospitals to increase hospitalist staffing to offset the reduction in resident availability. But it’s possible that if the larger markets are indeed becoming somewhat saturated with hospitalists, then there will be a trickledown effect, which should make more candidates available everywhere.
What will be the side effects if indeed the supply of hospitalists catches up to the demand, or even exceeds demand, in some places? It is easy to imagine that greater competition among candidates might mean that practices are increasingly able to hire the more talented and committed doctors, which should improve the overall performance of hospitalist practices.
Although I don’t have proof, I think this phenomenon has been in play in the field of emergency medicine for many years. When I was a resident in the 1980s, ED doctors typically were not the best and brightest at their hospitals. But the way I see it, the field began to attract better candidates, and as ED residencies and practices began to “fill up,” they could be more selective in new hires. Therefore, the average talent of the average ED doctor went up.
I think the average hospitalist today is pretty talented, but I also think it could get even better if the supply of hospitalists exceeds demand. I just hope I continue to make the cut!
If typical market forces are operative for hospitalists (far from a guarantee in any healthcare enterprise), then an oversupply of hospitalists could mean a flattening of the historical trend in hospitalist incomes. To this point, in our relatively young field, incomes have risen faster than can be explained solely by inflation or increases in hospitalist productivity. A relative shortage of hospitalists might be one of the main forces pushing incomes up, and it might go away.