These key moments in safety and quality, all of which occurred in the years leading up to hospitalists gaining their identity, were but a prelude to the widespread patient safety and quality movement. Like our own social movement, “Patient Safety and Quality” was born with an influential publication. This was the 1999 release of the Institute of Medicine’s “To Err is Human,” a report that reiterated claims that up to 98,000 U.S. patients per year were dying from medical errors.4 It also supported Dr. Leape’s earlier work calling for systems changes. In 2001, the Institute of Medicine published a second report, “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century,” which introduced the six aims for healthcare improvement: safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable, and patient-centered.5
Before 1999, hospitalists were just getting their feet on the ground. Groups were experimenting with practice models and recruiting young talent, mostly with a pitch for a new way to practice with freedom to design their day and often an interesting work schedule.
After the publication of “To Err is Human” in 1999, changes in patient safety and quality began to accelerate. Taking one of the recommendations from “To Err is Human,” which suggested that employers should use their market power to improve quality and safety, the Leapfrog Group, a consortium of large employers, organized in 2000. Leapfrog began rewarding and recognizing hospitals that put accepted safety measures in place.6 Suddenly, hospital CEOs began to see tangible rewards for improving quality in their hospitals.
Here is where the hospitalist movement and the patient safety and quality movement began to intersect.
Shift to Quality and Safety
In 2001, the same year “Crossing the Quality Chasm” was published, Congress created the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Significant funding was suddenly available for quality and safety research, and a more organized reporting mechanism for quality would soon be available.
In 2002, the Joint Commission released its first set of National Patient Safety Goals. There were seven, and key goals for hospitalists included improving the effectiveness of communication among caregivers, reducing the risk of healthcare-acquired infections, and reconciling medications.
And, lastly, as if that weren’t enough activity in the patient safety and quality world, the Joint Commission and CMS released in 2003 the first joint, aligned set of core measures, with which we are all now very familiar, around acute myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and pneumonia.
Hospital executives were trying to get a handle on the meaning of this flurry of activity for their hospitals. It certainly meant new regulatory requirements. It probably meant greater visibility to the public around what happened behind the walls of their facilities. No doubt dollars on the line wouldn’t be too far behind. They needed help, and they needed it fast.
No longer were hospitalists a small group of young docs roaming the halls; now, instead of just taking care of one patient at a time, they were reaching the threshold of size—and even status in some organizations—where they could leverage their working knowledge of the system and presence on site to affect the various facets of quality now being measured and incented. Additionally, as the information technology (IT) revolution rolled out, hospitalists, mostly tech-savvy Gen X’ers, looked to ease the transition into the new world of EHRs, which promised to serve as a new base for improving quality.
As the C-suite continued making value calculations in their heads, they saw that, in addition to helping them manage the many facets of the transition of primary care and specialty teaching attendings out of the hospital, hospitalists could now be a powerful weapon in helping them stay competitive in the looming patient safety and quality revolution. They pulled out their checkbooks.