Hospitalists across the country have become adept at tackling many institutional challenges, from readmissions (think Project BOOST) to teaching attendings from comanagement to neuromanagement. If it happens inside the walls of the hospital (and sometimes outside), hospitalists likely have played an important role in making it better somewhere.
Our hospitalists became a vital partner with the ED and within our own department of medicine, of course. We did the usual: seeing inpatients. But we also began experimenting with new and radical ways to get admitted patients out of the ED and upstairs as quickly as possible. We tried a number of admission systems, and many failed initially. We learned important lessons from the failures and continued to innovate.
Soon, hospitalists were successfully triaging admitted patients to all of general medicine using a combination of telephone and in-person triage based on the needs of the patient. This process had the triage hospitalist doing a limited ED assessment and then assigning the admission duties, often done after transfer upstairs to the best available medicine team, including the four house staff inpatient teams and hospitalist group. Later, this hospitalist admission process was expanded to all of medicine, using hospitalists to triage to the ICUs as well as specialty units in addition to general medicine. The hospital dedicated large amounts of money to allow a dedicated triage shift 24-7, staffed exclusively by hospitalists. A few years later, the hospitalists developed an in-house Web-based triage program, allowing accurate tracking of the more than 14,000 admissions annually.
The results have been better than anyone could have imagined 15 years ago. ED length of stay for admitted patients has continued to decrease dramatically—by hours, not minutes. Certain types of ambulance diversion (red alert in the state of Maryland) that were commonplace a decade ago, to the tune of 2,000-plus hours a year, virtually have been eliminated. Since ambulance diversion is known to harm patients and drive away business, this was a true win for patients as well as our hospital.9 Our ED volumes continued to grow, and patient-care indicators show the care provided by the current admissions process is at least as safe as before.
Hospitalists partnering with EDs to improve the admissions process are not isolated to Johns Hopkins Bayview. Many hospitalist leaders recognize that there are a variety of options for improving the care our patients get during the admissions process:
- Virginia Commonwealth University’s hospitalist group, led by Dr. Heather Masters, has worked tirelessly for years on a triage program.
- Dr. Melinda Kantsiper has done something similar at Howard County General Hospital in Maryland.
- Dr. MaryEllen Pfeiffer of Wellspan in York, Pa., is launching a triage program for admissions in the fall, and Dr. Christine Soong has focused on educating her house staff on the triage process at Mount Sinai in Toronto.
The Institute of Medicine reports that 91% of EDs are crowded routinely, an issue unlikely to go away on its own. I believe that hospitalists hold the key to unlocking the “admission door.” Hospitalists are critical partners in quality improvement, including ED flow, and can positively impact our patients, our institutions, and our specialty.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then let me tell you the true story of how the Hopkins Bayview ED physicians and hospitalists became close colleagues and the time I had Thanksgiving dinner at the ED chairman’s house. It was a lovely dinner, really.
Dr. Howell is president of SHM, chief of the division of hospital medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore, and spends a significant part of his time and research on hospital operations. Email questions or comments to [email protected].