Mel C. Anderson, MD, FACP, section chief of hospital medicine for the Veterans Administration of Eastern Colorado, and his hospitalist colleagues share a mission to care for the men and women who served their country in the armed forces and are now being served by the VA.
“That mission binds us together in a deep and impactful way,” he said. “One of the greatest joys of my life has been to dedicate, with the teams I lead, our hearts and minds to serving this population of veterans.”
Approximately 400 hospitalists work nationwide in the VA, the country’s largest integrated health system, typically in groups of about a dozen. Not every VA medical center employs hospitalists; this depends on local tradition and size of the facility. Dr. Anderson was for several years the lone hospitalist at the VA Medical Center in Denver, starting in 2005, and now he heads a group of 17. The Denver facility employs five inpatient teams plus nocturnists, supported by residents, interns, and medical students in training from the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora, to deliver all of its inpatient medical care.
“We also have an open ICU here. Hospitalists are able to follow their patients across the hospital, and we can make the decision to move them to the ICU,” Dr. Anderson said. The Denver group also established a hospitalist-staffed postdischarge clinic, where patients can reconnect with their hospital team. “It’s not to supplant primary care but to help promote safe transit as the patient moves back to the community,” he said. “We’ve also developed a surgery consult service for orthopedics and other surgical subspecialties.”
The VA’s integrated electronic medical record facilitates communication between hospitalists and primary care physicians, with instant messaging for updating the PCPs on the patient’s hospital stay.
The Denver VA hospitalists value their collegial culture, Dr. Anderson said. “We are invested in our group and in one another and in life-long learning. I often ask my group for their feedback. It’s one of the singular joys of my career to lead such a wonderful group, which has been built up person by person. I hired every single member. As much as their clinical skills and the achievements on their curriculum vitae were important, I also paid attention to their interpersonal communication skills.”
Members of the Denver hospitalist group also share an academic focus and commitment to scholarship and research. Dr. Anderson’s academic emphasis is on how to promote teaching and faculty development through organized bedside rounding and how to orient students to teaching as a potential career path. He is associate program director for medicine residencies at the University of Colorado and leads its Clinician/Educator Pathway.
The VA hospital’s interdisciplinary bedside rounding initiative involves the medicine team – students, residents, attending – and pharmacist, plus the patient’s bedside nurse and nurse care coordinator. “We have worked on fostering an interdisciplinary culture, and we’re very proud of the rounding model we developed here. We all round together at the bedside, and typically that might include 7 or 8 people,” Dr. Anderson explained.
“In planning this program, we used a Rapid Performance Improvement Project team with a nurse, pharmacist, and physical therapist helping us envision how to redesign rounds to overcome the time constraints,” he said. “We altered nurses’ work flow to permit them to join the rounding for their patients, and we moved morning medication administration to 7 a.m., so it wouldn’t get in the way of the rounding. We now audit rates of physician-to-nurse communication on rounds and how often we successfully achieve the nurse’s participation.”1 This approach has also cut rates of phone pages from nurses to house staff, and substantially increased job satisfaction.