We have been doing some education with hospitals over the last three or four years of just doing the math. We often give a dual proposal. This is how much it will cost for seven-on/seven-off; this is how much it will cost with the Monday-through-Friday model. Obviously, the Monday-through-Friday model is a lower cost, but it may take a little bit longer to get it staffed.
—Jeff Taylor, president, chief operating officer, IPC: The Hospitalist Co., North Hollywood, Calif.
Robert Houser, MD, MBA, co-medical director of Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City, S.D., left his primary-care practice a little more than 10 years ago to become a hospitalist. At the time, his new schedule—working seven days in a row, then taking off seven days in a row—struck him as odd. But the idea of being able to throw himself completely and alternately into both his job and his family appealed to him. More than a decade later, he still believes his schedule is a perfect mix of personal and professional time.
Bradley Eshbaugh, MBA, FACMPE, chief administrator of Hospitalists of Northern Michigan (HNM) in Traverse City, Mich., and a SHM Administrators’ Committee member, doesn’t see it that way. His hospitalists tell him the work-a-week, skip-a-week schedule is too inflexible for the work-life balance they crave. Even when newly hired physicians accustomed to the week-on/week-off schedule ask if they can continue it, Eshbaugh says, most quickly realize the flexible-schedule option that HNM utilizes offers them a more balanced approach to time off work.
Welcome to the world of seven-on/seven-off scheduling, where detractors and supporters often have the same reasons for their differing viewpoints. Those who favor the model say that its simple-to-implement block approach to scheduling allows physicians to know far in advance when their time off is. That allows clinicians to plan their lives way in advance, a carrot hospitalist groups have used for more than a decade to attract new hires. Those who prefer other scheduling methods say the seven-on/seven-off model’s rigidity leaves little flexibility to deal with the unscheduled inevitabilities of life (sickness, personal time, maternity leave, resignations, etc.) and is not the best construct to match staffing to the busiest admissions periods.
And while everyone agrees that the seven-on/seven-off model is among the most popular, there is as yet no clinical data that show whether its practitioners are more or less likely to provide higher-quality care. So the oft-asked question of whether the schedule is sustainable comes down not to care delivery but financial pressure. Three-quarters of HM groups (HMGs) rely on their host hospitals for financial support, and that support-per-FTE at nonacademic groups serving only adults rose to an median of $140,204 this year, according to SHM’s 2012 State of Hospital Medicine report—a 40% increase over data in the 2010 SHM/MGMA‐ACMPE survey.