For most of my medical career, the hospital functioned more as a swap meet, where every physician had his or her own booth, than as an integrated, community health resource with a focused mission. Although the innovation of HM might be counted as the beginning of a new, more aligned approach between physicians and the hospital as an institution, the rapidly evolving employment of physicians by hospitals and the focusing of physician practice primarily on inpatient care has taken this to another level.
The New Paradigm
A number of recent surveys by physician recruitment firms and physician management companies have found that less than 25% of physicians are self-employed. Planned changes to insurance and Medicare reimbursement for healthcare have driven cardiologists, orthopedists, surgeons, and many other physicians, who want to protect their flow of patients and dollars, to readily become hospital or large-group-practice employees. The entrance of accountable-care organizations (ACOs) to the landscape and the greater need for physician and hospital alignment have only accelerated this trend.
At the same time, the growth of all sorts of hospitalist specialties has further changed the medical staff of the hospital. Internal-medicine and family-practice hospitalists now number more than 35,000. There are probably more than 2,000 pediatric hospitalists. The newly formed Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists (SOGH) estimates there are more than 1,500 so-called laborists in the U.S., and there are several hundred neurohospitalists, orthopedic hospitalists, and acute-care surgeons.
It is clear to me that a “home team” for the hospital of the future is developing, and it includes hospitalists, ED physicians, critical-care physicians, and the growing panoply of hospital-employed cardiologists and surgeons. There is an opportunity for alignment and integration in what has been a fragmented delivery of healthcare.
On the commercial side of the equation, this new opportunity for physician-hospital alignment might allow for a new distribution of compensation. It already is common for hospitals to be transferring some of “their” Medicare Part A dollars to hospitalists. With penalties or additional payments in the ACO model (e.g. shared savings) or in value-based purchasing, there certainly are mechanisms to redistribute funding to new physician compensation models, based more on performance than on volume of services (i.e. the old productivity model).
On another level, where compensation and performance merge, the new medical staff has the ability to deliver a safer hospital experience to our patients and to improve performance. This could take the form of reduction in hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) or reducing unnecessary DVTs and PEs. It could take the form of a better discharge process that leads to fewer unnecessary readmissions or fewer preventable ED visits. On the OB side, 24-hour on-site availability of OB hospitalists has been shown to reduce adverse birth events and, therefore, reduce liability risk and malpractice premiums. On-site availability for patients with fractures and trauma cases by orthopedic hospitalists or hospital-employed orthopedists also can reduce expenses and adverse events for these acutely ill patients.
With all these changes occurring so rapidly and with all these new players being thrown into the stew at the hospital, it may be worth a few minutes for the “traditional” hospitalist on the medical service to step back and see how our role may evolve. We already have an increasing role in comanagement of surgical and subspecialty patients, as well as a more integrated role at the ED-hospitalist interface. As hospitals look for hospital-focused physicians, there is a potential for scope creep that must be thoughtfully managed.