Put Key Principles, Characteristics of Effective Hospital Medicine Groups to Work


Dr. Nelson

Dr. Nelson

I hope you’re already familiar with “The Key Principles and Characteristics of an Effective Hospital Medicine Group: An Assessment Guide for Hospitals and Hospitalists” [www.hospitalmedicine.org/keychar] and have spent at least a few minutes reviewing the list of 10 “principles” and 47 “characteristics” thought to be associated with effective hospital medicine groups (HMGs). (Full disclosure: I was one of the authors of the article published in February 2014 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.) Most of us are very busy, so the temptation might be high to set the article aside and risk forgetting it. But I hope many in our field, both clinicians and administrators, will look at it more carefully. There are a number of ways you could use the guide to stimulate thinking or change in your practice.

Grading Our Specialty

I just returned from a meeting of about 10 hospitalist leaders from different organizations around the country. Attendees represented the diversity of our field, including hospital-employed HMGs, large hospitalist management companies, and academic programs. We spent a portion of the meeting discussing what grade we as a group would give the whole specialty of hospital medicine on each of the 10 “principles.” Essentially, we generated a report card for the U.S. hospitalist movement.

This wasn’t a rigorous scientific exercise; instead, it was a robust and thought-provoking discussion around what grade to assign. Opinions regarding the appropriate grade varied significantly, but a common theme was that our specialty really “owns” the importance of pursuing many or most of the principles listed in the article and is devoting time and resources to them even if many individual HMGs might have a long way to go to perform optimally.

For example, meeting attendees thought our field has for a long time worked diligently to “support care coordination across the care continuum” (Principle 6). No one thought that all HMGs do this optimally, but the consensus was that most HMGs have invested effort to do it well. And most were concerned that many HMGs still lack “adequate resources” (Principle 3) and sufficiently “engaged hospitalists” (Principle 2)—and that the former contributes to the latter.

The opinion of the hospitalist leaders who happened to attend the meeting where this conversation took place doesn’t represent the final word on how our specialty is performing, but I think all involved found value in having the conversation, hearing different perspectives about what we’re doing well and where we should focus energy and resources to improve.

An HMG doesn’t need to be a stellar performer on all 47 characteristics to be effective. Some of the characteristics listed in the article may not apply to all groups.

Grading Your HM Group

You might want to do something similar within your own group, but make it more relevant by grading how your own practice performs on each of the 10 principles. You could do this on your own just to stimulate your thinking, or you could have each member of your HMG generate a report card of your group’s performance—then discuss where there is agreement or disagreement within the group.

You could structure this sort of individual or group assessment simply as an exercise to generate ideas and conversation about the practice, or your group could take a more formal approach and use it as part of a planning process to determine future practice management-related goals. I know of some groups that scheduled strategic planning meetings specifically to discuss which of the elements to make a priority.

Discussion Document for Leadership

In addition to using the article to generate conversation among hospitalists within your group, it can be a really valuable tool in guiding conversations with hospital leaders and the entity that employs the hospitalists. For example, you could use the article to generate or update the job description of the lead hospitalist or practice manager. Or during annual budgeting for the hospitalist practice, the guide could be used as a checklist to think about whether there are important areas that would benefit from more resources.

Of course, there is a risk that hospital leaders or those who employ the hospitalists could use the article primarily to criticize a hospitalist group and its leader for not already having excellent performance on every one of the principles and characteristics listed. That would be pretty unfortunate; there probably isn’t a single group that performs well on every domain, and the real value of the article is to “be aspirational, helping to raise the bar” for each HMG and our specialty as a whole.

And, as discussed in the article, an HMG doesn’t need to be a stellar performer on all 47 characteristics to be effective. Some of the characteristics listed in the article may not apply to all groups, so all involved in the management of any individual HMG should think about whether to set some aside when assessing their own group.

Where to Go from Here

The article is based on expert opinion, with the help of many more people than those listed as author, and I’m hopeful it will stimulate researchers to study some of these principles and characteristics. For many reasons, we will probably never have robust data, but I’d be happy for whatever we can get.

There is a pretty good chance that the evolution in the work we do and the nature of the hospital setting mean that the principles and characteristics may need to be revised periodically. I would love to know how they might be different in 10 or 20 years.

Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at john.nelson@nelsonflores.com.

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