In July 2010, 443-bed Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va., decided to end its contract for hospitalist services with a local private practice, the Fredericksburg Hospitalist Group (FGH), and to contract instead with national management company HMG (now Cogent HMG).
“We thought the local group might fold and leave, even though they retained a contract with our smaller affiliated hospital,” the 100-bed Stafford Hospital in nearby Stafford, Va., says Rebecca Bigoney, MD, vice president of medical affairs at Mary Washington Hospital. But FHG chose to stay and started aggressively marketing its services to local physicians.
“Today, we have two hospitalist groups that are similar in size, with an almost identical number of patients. They are both competitive and collegial, and it works far better than we thought it would,” Dr. Bigoney says. “We have seen many benefits from having two hospitalist groups; it makes both of them try harder. They have good leaders and aligned incentives.”
The groups also work together on such projects as developing order sets, managing lengths of hospital stay, and implementing computerized physician order entry.
Both groups are represented on hospital committees and within the recently formed division of hospital medicine. Rules of engagement were negotiated with the leadership of the two groups, including a policy on hospitalist admissions and transfers, protocols for handling unassigned patients, a process for local medical groups and physicians to designate their preference for hospitalist coverage, and what to do if the patient is admitted to the wrong group because the primary-care physician is not known at time of admission. If no preference for hospitalist group is given by the primary-care physician, the referral goes to Cogent HMG.
Dr. Bigoney acknowledges FHG physicians had some hard feelings at first. That sentiment is confirmed by FHG founder and hospitalist Feroz Tamana, MD.
“Of course, there was some confusion and anxiety [over the transfer],” Dr. Tamana says. “But from Day One, it has worked pretty well.”
FHG initially downsized from 24 physicians to eight, but has since grown back to 14.
Kerry Lecky, MD, joined Mary Washington in November 2011 to lead the contracting Cogent HMG practice. Everyone was in agreement as to the rules of engagement at that time “and how to align with the hospital’s goals,” said Dr. Lecky, who has since moved on to another position. “The competition has been an opportunity to improve quality. It could be a problem if there were too many hospitalist groups. But two is a very manageable number.”
Is this approach sustainable for the long haul?
“With two groups, we keep each other on our toes,” she says. And the ability to offer a choice of hospitalists to primary-care physicians has been a plus. TH
Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif.