And, hospitalists hired to work primarily at one of the small hospitals would probably benefit from working at the large referral hospital for the first few weeks of employment. This seems like a great way for them to become familiar with the people and operations at the big hospital, especially since they will be transferring patients there periodically.
Some mix of central control vs. local autonomy in decision making at each site is important for success. There aren’t any clear guidelines here, but providing the local doctors at each location with the ability to make their own decisions on things like work schedule will contribute to their sense of ownership of the practice. That feeling is valuable and supports good performance.
My bias is that each site in a practice could adopt the same “internal governance” guidelines, or rules by which they make decisions when unable to reach consensus (see “Play by the Rules,” December 2007, for sample guidelines.)
There should also be some form of “umbrella” governance structure in which the local site leaders meet regularly with the multi-site HMG leader.
One reason hospitals merge into a single system is the hope that they can more effectively meet the needs of all patients in the system’s hospitals. A typical configuration is several small hospitals, along with a single, large, referral center, to which patients are sent if the small hospital can’t meet their needs. The hope is that if all the hospitals are in the same system, the process of transfer can be smoother and more efficient.
A large portion—maybe even the majority—of all transfers in the system will be between a hospitalist at the small hospital and a partner hospitalist at the large hospital. Things will work best when the transferring and receiving hospitalists know something about the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s hospitals. And, you only know one another reasonably well from working together on committees or being on clinical service together at the same hospital, as well as social functions that include hospitalists from all sites.
Therefore, the multi-site HMG leader should think deliberately about how to ensure that the hospitalists interact with one another often, and not just when a transfer needs to take place.
A written agreement outlining the criteria for an appropriate transfer can be helpful. But such agreements cannot address all the situations that will arise, so good relationships between doctors at the different sites are invaluable and worth taking the time to cultivate.
Like the five people I mentioned above, anyone holding the position of multi-site HMG leader would benefit from talking with others in the same position. I’m working to arrange some forum for such communication, potentially including an in-person meeting at HM14 in Las Vegas in March (www.hospitalmedicine2014.org). If you are a health system-employed, multi-site HMG leader and want to be part of this conversation, I would love to hear from you.
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at [email protected].