Medicine in the past 10-20 years has seen major changes driven by changes in payment systems, lifestyle changes, and changes in training patterns. One such change is the hospitalist model of medicine. The advent of hospitalist practice has turned work-life balance on its head, as far as medicine is concerned.
All along, professionalism required that we pay unquestionable attention to the patient, the profession, and the organization—reporting early to work, staying until the work is done, taking work home, and answering the phone on the nights when we were on call. On weekends, finishing pending dictation was normal. The 20-minute mill of outpatient practice has driven primary medicine to a breaking point.
As the pressures of the primary-care job got worse, there came an exit in the form of the hospitalist model. HM provided shift work that could be adjusted to the needs of the physician.
This new kind of job, however, has its own problems. Physicians choosing the normalcy of shift work did not realize that they would give up professional independence. Hospitalists now are governed by the laws of shift work, and at the same time remain governed by the laws of their profession. It is likely when in need they will stay behind and get the work done. And it has been seen that hospitalists do visit the doctors’ lounge, have professional interests outside of direct patient care, and sometimes leave the hospital when their admits and discharges are complete.
And so the shift-work model has, at times, resulted in friction between hospital administration and hospitalists. It could be understood that, from an employer’s perspective, hospitals are paying on an hourly basis and thus expect the hospitalist group to be on site 24/7, sticking around even if there is no work. However, the argument from the hospitalist perspective is that when needed, I stay extra. It should be OK that on low-census days we should be able to leave for a cup of coffee and still be reachable, ready to come in if need arises.
So how do hospitalist-physician professionalism and shift work co-exist? It’s a big question, one that organizations around the country will be looking to solve in the next few years. How this question is answered is going to impact quality of care, recruitment, and staff satisfaction. Each answer will impact the staff and patients.
Keeping in mind outcomes that both parties are looking for, I think a proper plan can be worked out. I suggest hospital administrators adopt the following value-based measurements to evaluate hospitalist clinicians, and establish a compensation system where a minimum amount of production must be met.
Work relative value units (wRVUs). Work RVUs provide a consistent method to measure physician productivity. If one HM clinician’s numbers are below the group average, they might need a lesson in billing, along with a report of their productivity numbers and group expectations.
Patient encounters per day. The average number of patients seen per day (patients seen divided by number of shifts worked) should be measured on a quarterly basis. This metric should provide a measure of the work done by the physician; however, it needs to be offset by your group’s turnover rate (as discussed below).
Length of stay (LOS). Most HM groups are measuring LOS. It is the reason hospitalists exist. Not much more needs to be said about this measure of work performance.
Percentage of patient turnover. A good hospitalist will have a high patient turnover figure (total discharges divided by total encounters per day). This is important to know; it’s even better if accompanied by a short LOS.
New admissions per shift. Again, if there is an outlier, that metric should be detected rather easily.
Patient satisfaction. More and more, this is becoming an important measure of physician quality and is essential for competitive marketplaces. Of course, the quality of medical care will have its own parameters. And it is best left to use the existing, longstanding parameters that are used for the rest of the doctors in your system. There is no need to create an alternative system for the hospitalist.
If all of the above measures are better than the average hospitalist in the locality, then no one should worry about the hospitalist’s other activities, be it involvement in committee work, research, or browsing a newspaper or a cup of coffee in the doctors’ lounge. After all, one of the main reasons physicians opted for HM practice was to have the ability to control their workday.
This will, in my opinion, improve workforce satisfaction and improve productivity. It only makes common sense. It may be a hard pill to swallow for the administrators, but it is the right medicine for the doctor.
Rwoof Reshi, MD, hospitalist, St. Joe’s Hospital, St. Paul, Minn.