Practice Economics

Work-Hour Restrictions Impact Staffing, Education for Academic Hospital Medicine


 

Dr. Bryan Huang, MD

Table 1. Academic HM group responses to new resident work-hour limitations*
Source: 2012 State of Hospital Medicine report

Dr. Bryan Huang, MD

Dr. Grace Huang

In July 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) implemented new duty-hour restrictions on resident physicians. Among other changes, interns were restricted to a maximum of 16 hours of continuous duty. New rules also limited second-year residents and above to 24 hours of continuous duty, plus up to four additional hours for transition and educational activities. Recommendations were made for strategic napping, greater supervision requirements, and a minimum of eight to 10 hours off between shifts.

The 2012 State of Hospital Medicine report, which is based on 2011 data encompassing the period of these duty-hour changes, takes a systematic look at how academic HM practices have adjusted to the new resident rules. The most notable changes have been the addition of physician FTEs (51.3% of adult academic HM practices have done so) and nurse practitioners or physician assistants (23%). Additional common responses to resident work-hour limitations are listed in Table 1.

Academic HM group responses to new resident work-hour limitations Dr. Bryan Huang, MD

Table 1. Academic HM group responses to new resident work-hour limitations*
Source: 2012 State of Hospital Medicine report

These data underscore the immensity of changes academic HM groups have faced as a result of new work-hour limitations, as the majority of internal-medicine residents work with hospitalist attendings on inpatient medicine rotations. House staff no longer can be used as an inexpensive source of labor, given limitations on service and new expectations for resident education and supervision.

As others have commented on this topic in The Hospitalist, the role of the academic hospitalist is being redefined. No longer is academic HM synonymous with teaching alone; the clinical duties of many academic hospitalists now include a combination of teaching and non-teaching services, often with some night coverage. At our hospitals in San Diego and Boston, for instance, changes incurred due to work-hour restrictions include elimination of house staff coverage from one of the medical center’s hospitals and a significant increase in nonteaching service responsibilities across all hospitalists. An alternative approach that some programs have embraced is the recruitment of separate cadres of teaching and nonteaching hospitalists, which might result in markedly different professional expectations within the same group or institution.

Trends shifting clinical work from residents to hospitalists are likely to continue, no doubt increasing demand for hospitalists and physician extenders. In the past, the combination of less expensive resident labor and lower salaries in academia was financially favorable for hospitals. Due to resident duty-hour limitations, academic hospitalist groups have had to negotiate not only for additional hires, but, in many instances, also higher salaries commensurate with nonteaching work.

Given the impact on a hospital’s finances, academic HM practices have had to look more closely at clinical volumes and productivity, making protected time for nonclinical pursuits more difficult to come by. Alignment of hospitalists’ interests with those of hospital administrators through performance-improvement projects (e.g. reducing length of stay, readmissions, or nosocomial infections) will be crucial to the financial viability of the academic HM practice, and leadership in these areas will define and differentiate academic hospitalists in the future.


Dr. Bryan Huang, who works in Boston, and Dr. Grace Huang, who works in San Diego, both are members of SHM’s Practice Analysis Committee.

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