“What really seems to distinguish comanagement from traditional medical consultations is that it implies equality in the relationship, even though the surgeon is often the attending of record,” as is practiced at Brigham and Women’s, Dr. McKean says. The comanaging hospitalist might follow the patient until discharge, rather than just seeing the patient once regarding the consultation question. “It’s more of a robust involvement of the hospitalist or internist, who really takes responsibility to make sure that medical conditions are actively managed, ideally before complications emerge.”
Eric Siegal, MD, SFHM, an intensivist with Aurora Medical Group in Wisconsin and an SHM board member, recommended developing comanagement services “carefully and methodically, paying close attention to consequences, intended and unintended”1 in a 2008 Journal of Hospital Medicine article. He tries to avoid broad generalizations about comanagement because “it’s applied variably across the industry. You’re going to find hospitalist programs that comanage very well and others that do it poorly.”
Dr. Siegal says he doesn’t think anyone in the field is “categorically anti-comanagement.”
However, he says it should be done thoughtfully, with clear goals in mind, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. “Just showing up to see the specialists’ patients and calling it comanagement doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything to make those patients’ care better,” he says.
Demographic trends driving the spread of comanagement include an aging population of hospitalized patients with multiple comorbidities receiving surgical or other procedures that might not have been offered to them in the past. It fits with broader healthcare reform trends toward enhanced coordination and greater efficiency, illustrated by accountable-care organizations (ACOs).
Comanagement can be a growth and expansion opportunity for hospitalist groups, one that offers a defined niche and cements a group’s value to a hospital that wants improved relationships with surgeons. It also addresses the need for standardization and improved patient care in response to quality and safety concerns, and is associated with higher reported rates of satisfaction for surgeons and other staff and for patients.
“There are compelling reasons to do this, related to the limitations placed on resident work hours, which have affected neurosurgery and other surgical specialties profoundly, and the need to provide on-the-floor physician coverage more often and more consistently,” says UCSF hospitalist Andrew Auerbach, MD, MPH.
Comanagement has emerged as a solution to the challenge of caring for fragile patients with multiple medical comorbidities. … Because busy surgeons cannot be in two places at once, comanagement allows for immediate availability of physicians with expertise in postoperative medical complications.—Sylvia McKean, MD, SFHM, senior hospitalist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, SHM board member
Dr. Auerbach is the lead author of a recently published study of the neurosurgery comanagement service at UCSF, which found that the program did not result in changes in patient mortality, readmission rates, or lengths of stay (LOS), although it was associated with reduced costs and perceptions of higher quality by professionals.5 Previous research has identified similar results with regard to increased professional satisfaction but without improvements in hard clinical outcomes.6
“Our paper supports the idea that clinical benefits to patients are not there yet,” Dr. Auerbach says. “Maybe we haven’t comanaged the right kinds of patients. Is there something else we have to think about? Maybe the real action is to be found post-hospitalization.”
In his landmark 2008 JHM article, Dr. Siegal pointed to potential drawbacks associated with comanagement. For example, surgeons, other specialists, and residents can become disengaged from the medical care of their hospitalized patients. He also noted the exacerbation of hospitalist and generalist manpower shortages, as well as the theoretical risk of fragmentation of care that is provided by multiple physician managers. If hospitalists are asked to do things that are outside of their skill set, that can be a problem, too. But the biggest concerns seem to center on the potential negative impact on job satisfaction.