Practice Economics

The To-Don’t List


 

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.

Paying a new hospitalist a lower salary that increases automatically every few years isn’t really a raise earned by the doctor’s improved financial performance. Usually it’s just a system of withholding money that could be available for compensation for the doctor’s first few years in the practice. This lower starting salary might adversely impact recruiting.

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.

If your practice has a vacation system that works well, then stick with it. But if you or your administrators are going nuts trying to categorize nonworking days between vacation and days the doctor simply wasn’t scheduled, then it might be best to stop trying. Just settle on the number of shifts (or some other metric) that a doctor is to work each year.

Tenure-based salary increases. It makes a lot of sense to pay doctors in most specialties an increasing salary based on his or her tenure with the practice. As they build a patient population and a referral stream, they generate more revenue and should benefit accordingly. But a new hospitalist who joins an existing group almost never has to build the referrals. In most cases, the group hired the doctor because the referrals are already coming and the practice needs more help, or the new doctor is replacing a departing one. So paying a new hospitalist a lower salary that increases automatically every few years isn’t really a raise earned by the doctor’s improved financial performance. Usually it’s just a system of withholding money that could be available for compensation for the doctor’s first few years in the practice. This lower starting salary might adversely impact recruiting. For more, see “Compensation Conundrum” from December 2009.

Poor roles for nonphysician providers (NPPs). I’ve worked with a lot of practices that have NPs and PAs (and, in some cases, RNs) who are doing what amounts to clerical work. They’re faxing discharge summaries, making calls to schedule patient appointments, dividing up the overnight admissions for the day rounders, etc.

Don’t make this mistake. Hire a secretary for that sort of work. And be sure that the roles occupied by trained clinicians (PAs, NPs, RNs, etc.) are professionally satisfying and will position them to make an effective contribution to the practice.

For more on this topic, see “The 411 on NPPs” from September 2008 and “Role Refinement” from September 2009; the latter features the perspective of Ryan Genzink, a thoughtful PA-C from Michigan.

Blinded performance reporting. First, make sure your practice provides regular, meaningful reports on each doctor’s performance and the group as a whole. This usually takes the form of a dashboard or report card. In my experience, too few practices do this. Make sure your group isn’t in that category.

Groups that do provide performance data often allow each doctor to see only his or her data. If data about other individuals in the group are provided, the names have often been removed. With exception of certain human resources issues (e.g. counseling a doctor to prevent termination), I think all performance data in the group should be shared by name with the whole group. In most practices, everyone should know by name which doctors are the high and low producers, each doctor’s compensation, and CPT coding practices (e.g. the portion of discharges coded at the high level).

When clinical performance can be attributed to individual providers, report those metrics openly, too. This usually creates greater cohesion within the group and helps foster a mentality of practice ownership. TH

Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988 and is co-founder and past president of SHM. He is a principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants a national hospitalist practice management consulting firm (www.nelsonflores.com). He is course co-director and faculty for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program.” This column represents his views and is not intended to reflect an official position of SHM.

Next Article:

   Comments ()