Southern Hospital Medicine Conference Drives Home the Value of Hospitalists


More than 300 hospitalists and other clinicians recently attended the 13th annual Southern Hospital Medicine Conference in Atlanta. The conference is a joint collaboration between the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and Ochsner Health System New Orleans. The meeting site has alternated between the two cities each year since 2005.

The prevailing conference theme in 2012 was “Value and Values in Hospital Medicine,” alluding to the value that hospitalists bring to the medical community and hospitals and the values shared by hospitalists. The conference offered five pre-courses and more than 50 sessions focused on educating hospitalists on current best practices within core topic areas, including clinical care, quality improvement, healthcare information technology, innovative care models, systems of care, and transitions of care. A judged poster competition featured research and clinical vignettes abstracts, with interesting clinical cases as well as new research in hospital medicine.

One of the highlights of this year’s conference was the keynote address delivered by Dr. William A. Bornstein, chief quality and medical officer of Emory Healthcare. Dr. Bornstein discussed the various aspects of quality and cost in hospital care. He described the challenges in defining quality and measuring cost when trying to calculate the “value” equation in medicine (value=quality/cost). He outlined the Institute of Medicine’s previously described STEEEP (safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable, patient-centered) aims of quality in 2001.

Dr. Bornstein’s own definition for quality is “partnering with patients and families to reliably, 100% of the time, deliver when, where, and how they want it—and with minimal waste—care based on the best available evidence and consistent with patient and family values and preferences.” To measure outcome, he said, we need to address system structure (what’s in place before the patient arrives), process (what we do for the patient), and culture (how we can get the buy-in from all stakeholders). The sum of these factors achieves outcome, which requires risk adjustment and, ideally, long-term follow-up data, he said.

Dr. Bornstein also discussed the need to develop standard processes whereby equivalent clinicians can follow similar processes to achieve the same results. When physicians “do it the same” (i.e. standardized protocols), error rates and cost decrease, he explained.

Dr. Bornstein also focused on transformative solutions to address problems in healthcare as a whole, rather than attempting to fix problems piecemeal.

Jason Stein, MD, SFHM, offered another conference highlight: a pre-conference program and plenary session on an innovative approach to improve hospital outcomes through implementation of the accountable-care unit (ACU). Dr. Stein, director of the clinical research program at Emory School of Medicine, described the current state of hospital care as asynchronous, with various providers caring for the patient without much coordination. For example, the physician sees the patient at 9 a.m., followed by the nurse at 10 a.m., and then finally the visiting family at 11 a.m. The ACU model of care would involve all the providers rounding with the patient and family at a scheduled time daily to provide synchronous care.

Dr. Stein described an ACU as a geographic inpatient area consistently responsible for the clinical, service, and cost outcomes it produces. Features of this unit include:

  • Assignment of physicians by units to enhance predictability;
  • Cohesiveness and communication;
  • Structured interdisciplinary bedside rounds to consistently deliver evidence-based, patient-centered care;
  • Evaluation of performance data by unit instead of facility or service line; and
  • A dyad partnership involving a nurse unit director and a physician unit medical director.

ACU implementation at Emory has led to decreased mortality, reduced length of stay, and improved patient satisfaction compared to traditional units, according to Dr. Stein. While the ACU might not be suited for all, he said, all hospitals can learn from various components of this innovative approach to deliver better patient care.

The ever-changing state of HM in the U.S. remains a challenge, but it continues to generate innovation and excitement. The high number of engaged participants from 30 different states attending the 13th annual Southern Hospital Medicine Conference demonstrates that hospitalists are eager to learn and ready to improve their practice in order to provide high-value healthcare in U.S. hospitals today.

Dr. Lee is vice chairman in the department of hospital medicine at Ochsner Health System. Dr. Smith is an assistant director for education in the division of hospital medicine at Emory University. Dr. Deitelzweig is system chairman in the department of hospital medicine and medical director for regional business development at Ochsner Health System. Dr. Wang is the division director of hospital medicine at Emory University. Dr. Dressler is director for education in the division of hospital medicine and an associate program director for the J. Willis Hurst Internal Medicine Residency Program at Emory University.

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