LAS VEGAS—A record 3,600 hospitalists swarmed the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for four days of education and networking that wrapped with the “father of HM,” Bob Wachter, MD, MHM, dressed as Elton John, warbling a hospitalist-centric version of Sir Elton’s chart topper, “Your Song,” to a packed ballroom.
“[HM14] is just intoxicating,” said hospitalist Kevin Gilroy, MD, of Greenville (S.C.) Health System. “And it ends with our daddy getting up there and lighting it up as Elton John. What other conference does that?”
In perhaps the most tweeted line from HM14, keynote speaker Ian Morrison, PhD, compared the addictiveness of crack cocaine with physicians’ dedication to the fee-for-service payment system.
“It’s really hard to get off of it,” the national healthcare expert deadpanned to a packed ballroom at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
The zinger was one of the highlights of the annual meeting’s three plenary addresses, which alternately gave the record 3,600 hospitalists in attendance doses of sobriety about the difficulty of healthcare reform and comedy bits from Dr. Morrison and HM dean Robert Wachter, MD, MHM.
The keynote titled “Obamacare Is Here: What Does It Mean for You and Your Hospital?” featured a panel discussion among Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) chief medical officer Patrick Conway, MD, MSc, MHM, FAAP; executive director and CEO of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and former SHM president Patrick Cawley, MD, MBA, MHM, FACP, FACHE; veteran healthcare executive Patrick Courneya, MD; and American Enterprise Institute resident fellow Scott Gottlieb, MD. The quartet—dubbed the Patricks and Scott by several emcees—followed their hour-long plenary with a question-and-answer session.
“I think this is ultimately going to hurt the financial standing of the hospital industry,” said Dr. Gottlieb, a newcomer to SHM’s annual meeting. “A lot of these hospitals that are taking on these capitated contracts, taking on risk, consolidating physicians, I think they’re going to get themselves into financial trouble in the next five years. That’s going to put pressure on the hospitalists.”
Dr. Cawley said that just a few years ago, his institution subsidized five medical groups. Now it’s 25. He has a simple message for hospitalists not committed to providing better care at lower costs: “You’re not going to be on my good side.”
Dr. Wachter told medical students and residents that he sees no end in sight to the unrelenting pressure to provide that high-quality, low-cost care, while also making sure patient satisfaction rises. And he’s more than OK with that.
“It’s important to recognize that the goal we’re being asked to achieve—to deliver high-quality, satisfying, evidence-based care without undue variations, where we’re not harming people and doing it at a cost that doesn’t bankrupt society—is unambiguously right,” he said. “It’s such an obviously right goal that what is odd is that this was not our goal until recently. So the fact that our field has taken this on as our mantra is very satisfying and completely appropriate.”
The keynote addresses also highlighted another satisfying result: Immediate past SHM President Eric Howell, MD, SFHM, reached the goal he set at 2013’s annual meeting to double the society’s number of student and housestaff members from 500 to 1,000.
Newly minted SHM President Burke Kealey, MD, SFHM, has a goal that is a bit more abstract: He wants hospitalists to look at improving healthcare affordability, patient health, and the patient experience—as a single goal.
“We put the energy and the effort of the moment behind the squeaky wheel,” said Dr. Kealey, medical director of hospital specialties at HealthPartners Medical Group in St. Paul, Minn. “What I would like us to do is all start thinking about all three at the same time, and with equal weight at all times. To me, this is the next evolution of the hospitalist.”
Dr. Kealey’s tack for his one-year term is borrowed from the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, whose “triple aim” initiative has the same goals. But Dr. Kealey believes that focusing on any of the three areas while giving short shrift to the others misses the point of bettering the overall healthcare system.
“To improve health, but then people can’t afford that healthcare, is a nonstarter,” he said. “To make things finally affordable, but then people stay away because it’s a bad experience, makes no sense, either. We must do it all together.”
And hospitalists are in the perfect position to do it, said Dr. Morrison, a founding partner of Strategic Health Perspectives, a forecasting service for the healthcare industry that includes joint venture partners Harris Interactive and the Harvard School of Public Health’s department of health policy and management. He sees hospitalist leaders as change agents, as the rigmarole of healthcare reform shakes out over the next few years.
Dr. Morrison, a native of Scotland whose delivery was half stand-up comic, half policy wonk (he introduced himself as Dr. Wachter’s Scottish caddy), said that while politicians and pundits dicker over how a generational shift in policies will be implemented, hospitalists will be the ones balancing that change with patients’ needs.
“This is the work of the future,” he said, “and it is not policy wonk work; it is clinical work. It is about the transformation of the delivery system. That is the central challenge of the future.
“We’ve got to integrate across the continuum of care, using all the innovation that both public and private sectors can deliver. This is not going to be determined by CMS, in my view, but by the kind of innovation that America is always good at.”