Per Danielsson, MD, medical director of Swedish Hospital Medicine in Seattle, says his group uses a hybrid seven-on/seven-off schedule that has demonstrated that their cost-of-care delivery is consistently $1,000 to $1,500 less per case than other physicians’ cases at Swedish Medical Center—and those other physicians often take care of patients with the same diagnoses.
Our program started with three physicians in 2004 and has grown to over 30 in 2012. There has been such great value brought to our community and our medical staff and our patients, just over and above what the bottom line would show on a monthly operational statement, that we don’t have the bean-counters knocking on our door.
—Kristi Gylten, MBA, director, hospitalist services, Rapid City (S.D.) Regional Hospital, SHM Administrators’ Committee member
“When you have those kinds of numbers, and you’re doing 7,000 admissions per year, the numbers add up quickly,” Dr. Danielsson says.
Kristi Gylten, MBA, director of hospitalist services at Rapid City Regional Hospital and a member of SHM’s Administrators’ Committee, says hospitalist group leaders should urge their administrations to look at more than just financial statements when judging the value of an HM group, particularly in rural areas.
“Our program started with three physicians in 2004 and has grown to over 30 in 2012,” she says. “There has been such great value brought to our community and our medical staff and our patients, just over and above what the bottom line would show on a monthly operational statement, that we don’t have the bean-counters knocking on our door.”
IPC’s Taylor says a complicating factor in moving away from the seven-on/seven-off format is the passion physicians have for their schedules. Or, to use his words: “You make major changes to schedules at great peril.”
John Frehse, managing partner of Core Practice, a Chicago consultancy that designs and implements labor strategies for shift-work operations, says that managers and administrators looking to change schedules often shy away from the upheaval.
“This emotional and potentially disruptive environment is something that makes them say, ‘We’re getting away with it now, so let’s not change it. Why rock the boat?’” Frehse explains. “They should be saying, ‘What is the methodology to get this out of here and put in something that’s financially responsible for the organization?’”
Ten years ago, Dr. Houser found the seven-on/seven-off schedule “a little bit unusual.” Now, his workweek of seven 10-hour days in a row seems natural. Even so, he understands those who voice concerns about hospitalized patients who would not be happy to know their hospitalist was on his 60th, 70th, or 80th hour of work that week.
“The physician’s side of me stays in a mode where I know I have to be a resource to the patient and I have to be a resource to my colleagues, and so I don’t think terms of being mentally drained,” he says. “Whether I’m starting or finishing, I just want to be as fresh as I can to approach those problems and mentally stay in the game that way. If I start thinking about being fatigued or tired, I feel like I won’t be able to provide the type of care that I can for that patient.”
Some groups using the seven-on/seven-off model allow physicians to leave the hospital at slow times while requiring they be on call. That allows hospitalists to recharge a bit midweek while ensuring that there is enough staff to provide coverage. Dr. Martinek says there’s no need to “hold them in the hospital if there is no work to do.” Daytime hospitalists also split admission to lighten the workload, he says.