LAS VEGAS—Hospitalist Ijeoma “Carol” Nwelue, MD, has been more focused on patient readmissions over the past year at her practice in Lansing, Mich. So when the directors at Sparrow Hospitalists told her she had a meeting a few weeks after HM14 to discuss different risk assessment tools that might be used to pre-identify patients at high risk for readmission, she wasn’t nervous.
Instead, she prepped at SHM’s annual meeting at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino—a veritable three-day crash course in the latest and greatest approaches to preventing readmissions.
“It’s very helpful,” she says. “It helps to see things that I haven’t thought about in our practice that other people are looking into.”
Quality improvement (QI) and patient safety are at the core of what hospitalists do, and the HM14 organizers understand that. From multiple pre-courses on the topics trending today to a dedicated educational track of breakout sessions and expert speakers to hundreds of posters identifying HM-specific QI projects, SHM’s annual meeting is a veritable QI opportunity of its own.
Take the annual pre-course, “ABIM Maintenance of Certification Facilitated Modules.” One attendee told presenter Read Pierce, MD, director of quality improvement and clinical innovation for the hospitalist group at the University of Colorado Denver, that before the session in Las Vegas he had always had “the sense that quality and safety is soft science or fuzzy stuff around the edges, and if you were a smart clinician, that was good enough.”
After some time in the session, Dr. Pierce recounts, the man “realized it’s not just enough to have great intellectual horsepower. You have to have some approach for dealing with these complex systems. And I think that’s the really fun thing....It’s not just about the discreet concepts; it’s about understanding the environment in which we practice, the importance of engaging systems and of using the tools of quality and safety to augment what physicians have always been good at doing.”
John Coppes, MD, FHM, a hospitalist at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pa., says quality and patient safety are the “most important things that we do.”
“It’s our responsibility to our patients to do the best job we can,” he notes. “It’s our responsibility to society to do it as efficiently as we can.”
Veteran meeting faculty John Bulger, DO, MBA, FACP, SFHM, hospitalist and chief quality officer at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, agrees completely and is one of HM’s biggest proponents of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation’s Choosing Wisely (www.hospitalmedicine.org/choosingwisely) campaign. The national initiative, aimed at educating physicians—and patients—about wasteful medical tests, procedures, and treatments, launched in 2012, but SHM joined the chorus as a strategic partner last year.
“Choosing Wisely is about bending the cost curve,” Dr. Bulger says.
He added that although standardization of care is necessary for Choosing Wisely to work, homogeneity doesn’t mean everybody does everything exactly the same way. It means ensuring that hospitalists adopt “agreed upon best practices” before local variations are added. He compared it to a cookbook of apple pie recipes. All apple pies contain apples and crust, but the tasty treats are tailored differently from there.
“When you come up with guidelines in your hospital, that’s what you’re doing,” Dr. Bulger says. “You’re writing the cookbook and coming up with what works at your hospital. It might not work at [my hospital] at all, but I can look at it and learn.”
In the long-term, SHM hopes to create resources beyond the recommendations themselves—perhaps including a mentored implementation program akin to Project BOOST or pre-packaged order sets and checklists. Whatever the society does, it needs to engage the younger generation of physicians to ensure that quality and safety stay a priority for them, says Darlene Tad-y, MD, chair of SHM’s Physicians in Training Committee.
An assistant professor of medicine and a hospitalist at the University of Colorado Denver, Dr. Tad-y says that getting residents and students involved in quality and safety measures is critical for HM’s future.
“Especially since we want to have hospital medicine be at the forefront,” she explains. “It’s vital for us to have our students and residents taking the lead.”
Younger physicians already see the role quality and safety take in day-to-day practice. So, for them, according to Dr. Tad-y, a focus on making sure patient care is delivered better and more safely isn’t a renewed effort—it’s what they’re taught from the beginning.
“They haven’t been trained in the old way yet,” she says. “They still have an open mind. They see that things can change and things can be better. We don’t have to change old habits. We are just evolving good new habits for them.”
One new perspective was a first-time pre-course, “Cardiology: What Hospitalists Need to Know as Front-Line Providers.” The eight-hour seminar was led by cardiologist Matthews Chacko, MD, of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, who says the time is right for quality-focused hospitalists to devote a full-day pre-course to cardiology.
“Cardiovascular disease is the most common reason we die,” he says. “It’s something hospital-based practitioners see often. Providing a comprehensive, yet simplified, overview of the way to manage some of these diseases with talks given by some of the leading experts in the field seemed very appropriate for this meeting.”
The sheer scale of QI initiatives can be daunting, says Michelle Mourad, MD, director of quality and safety at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine. She urges her peers to take the proverbial step back, identify a single issue—sepsis mortality or hand hygiene, for example—and then focus on understanding that issue intimately. That way, a hospitalist or HM group can convince other physicians that there is a problem and that it’s worth the work to fix it. Once that’s done, a hospitalist can launch a QI project that devises a measurement strategy to see if change is occurring.
And, while sustaining that change beyond the initial start-up can be difficult, Dr. Mourad believes success breeds success.
“When you work hard at a quality gap that’s in your organization, [when you] actually see the care you provide get better—not just for the patient in front of you, but for all the patients in your organization—it’s extremely powerful and motivating,” she says. “It changes the culture in your institution and convinces other people that they can do the same.”