Last month, I wrote about the attributes of hospitalist practices that I associate with success. This month, I’ll do the opposite. That is, I’ll write about strategies your practice could, or even should, do without. Of course, all of these things are open to debate, and some thoughtful people might (and in my experience, probably will) arrive at different conclusions.
So I offer my list as food for thought, and if your practice relies on some of these strategies, you shouldn’t feel threatened by my opinion. But you might want to think about whether they’ve been made part of your practice by design, or if things just evolved this way without careful consideration of alternatives. I’ve listed them in no particular order.
Fixed-duration day shifts. My sense is that the majority of practices have a day shift with a predetermined start and end. That is, the hospitalist is expected to arrive and depart at the same time each day.
This seems to make a lot of sense, but it ignores the dramatic variations in workload a practice will have. For example, a practice that is appropriately staffed with four daytime hospitalists, and schedules each of them to work a 12-hour shift, provides 48 hours of daytime hospitalist manpower each day. But that will turn out to be precisely the right level of staffing only a few days a year. On all other days, daytime staffing will be optimal with a different number of hours. So it would make sense for the doctors to work more or less on those days.
Telling doctors that their shift always starts at the same time has significant lifestyle advantages. But it can inhibit the doctors who would be happy to start earlier to address more discharges early in the day and potentially go home earlier. So, just like most other doctors at your hospital have, why not let the doctors have significant latitude in when they start and stop working each day? In most cases, it might be necessary to have a time by which every doctor must be available to respond to pages (and one who must be on-site before the night doctor leaves), but they should feel free to actually arrive and start working when they choose. Most will make good choices and will likely feel a little more empowered and happy with their work.
And, at the end of the day, it might be reasonable to allow some of the day-shift doctors to leave when their work is done, and allow the others to stay to handle admissions until the night shift takes over. Those who leave early might still be required to respond to pages until a specified time.
Shifts that don’t involve rounding on “continuity” patients, such as night and evening (“swing”) shifts, usually should be arranged with predetermined start. I wrote in more detail on this topic in January 2007 and October 2010.
Contractual vacation provisions. Hospitalists should have significant amounts of time off. We work a lot of evenings, nights, and weekends, and we must have liberal amounts of time away from work. But for many practices, there is no advantage in classifying this time as vacation (or CME, etc.) time. In most cases, it makes the most sense to simply specify how much work (e.g. number of shifts) a doctor is to do each year and not specify a number of days or hours of vacation time. For more detail, read “The Vacation Conundrum” from March 2007.