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Increase in Hospitalist Workload Associated With Higher LOS and Cost


Clinical question

Does increased hospitalist workload affect efficiency and quality of care?

Bottom line

Increased hospitalist workload is associated with increased cost and length of stay (LOS). Quality metrics such as 30-day readmission rate, in-hospital mortality, and patient satisfaction were not affected by changes in workload. (LOE = 2b)


Elliott DJ, Young RS, Brice J, Aguiar R, Kolm P. Effect of hospitalist workload on the quality and efficiency of care. JAMA Intern Med 2014;174(5):786-793.

Study design

Cohort (retrospective)

Funding source





Inpatient (any location)


Using data abstracted from the central data warehouse of an academic community health system, these authors examined the association between hospitalist workload and the efficiency and quality of care provided. A private hospitalist group that provided 24-hour care to patients at 2 hospitals within the system was selected for the study. Patients included were those who either had an attending of record or had admission and discharge bills submitted by a physician in this hospitalist group. Physician daily workload was measured using the total number of relative value units (RVUs) generated and the physician’s census as determined by the number of billable encounters submitted. Efficiency was measured by LOS and cost. Quality was measured by in-hospital mortality, rapid response team activation, 30-day readmission rate, and patient satisfaction. Models were adjusted for patient characteristics, including demographics; severity of illness; visit characteristics, including admission day of the week; and hospital-level characteristics, including hospital occupancy. Approximately 20,000 hospitalizations were included in the study. Hospitalists had a mean of 15.5 patient encounters and 28.6 RVUs per day. Results for LOS were stratified by hospital occupancy. For less than 75% occupancy, LOS increased linearly from 5.5 days to 7.5 days as workload increased. For greater than 85% occupancy, the change in LOS was J-shaped with a significant increase around an RVU of 30 or a census of 17. Cost also increased with higher workloads. For every unit increase in RVU, cost increased by $111; for every unit increase in census, cost increased by $205 (after adjustment for LOS). There were no significant associations with change in workload and patient satisfaction, in-hospital mortality, rapid response team activation, or 30-day readmission rate.

Dr. Kulkarni is an assistant professor of hospital medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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