The practice of hospital medicine is rapidly changing. Higher-acuity patients are being admitted to hospitals already struggling with capacity, and hospitalists are being instructed to pay attention to length of stay, improve their documentation and billing, and participate in initiatives to improve hospital throughput, all while delivering high-quality patient care.
As hospitalists and SHM members who are also physician advisors, we have a unique understanding of these pressures. In this article, we answer common questions we receive from hospitalists regarding utilization management, care coordination, clinical documentation, and CMS regulations.
Why do physician advisors exist, and what do they do?
A physician advisor is hired by the hospital to act as a liaison between the hospital administration, clinical staff, and support personnel in order to ensure regulatory compliance, advise physicians on medical necessity, and assist hospital leadership in meeting overall organizational goals related to the efficient utilization of health care services.1
Given their deep knowledge of hospital systems and processes, and ability to collaborate and teach, hospitalists are well-positioned to serve in this capacity. Our primary goal as physician advisors is to help physicians continue to focus on the parts of medicine they enjoy – clinical care, education, quality improvement, research etc. – by helping to demystify complex regulatory requirements and by creating streamlined processes to make following these requirements easier.
Why does this matter?
We understand that regulatory and hospital systems issues such as patient class determination, appropriate clinical documentation, and hospital throughput and capacity management can feel tedious, and sometimes overwhelming, to busy hospitalists. While it is easy to attribute these problems solely to hospitals’ desire for increased revenue, these issues directly impact the quality of care we provide to their patients.
In addition, our entire financial system is predicated on appropriate health care resource utilization, financial reimbursement, demonstration of medical acuity, and our impact on the care of a patient. Thus, our ability to advocate for our patients and for ourselves is directly connected with this endeavor. Developing a working knowledge of regulatory and systems issues allows hospitalists to be more engaged in leadership and negotiations and allows us to advocate for resources we deem most important.
Why are clinical documentation integrity teams so important?
Accurately and specifically describing how sick your patients are helps ensure that hospitals are reimbursed appropriately, coded data is accurate for research purposes, quality metrics are attributed correctly, and patients receive the correct diagnoses.
Clarification of documentation and/or addressing “clinical validity” of a given diagnosis (e.g., acute hypoxic respiratory failure requires both hypoxia and respiratory distress) may support an increase or result in a decrease in hospital reimbursement. For example, if the reason for a patient’s admission is renal failure, renal failure with true acute hypoxic respiratory failure will be reimbursed at a rate 40% higher than renal failure without the documentation of other conditions that reflect how ill the patient really is. The patient with acute hypoxic respiratory failure (or other major comorbid condition) is genuinely sicker, thus requiring more time (length of stay) and resources (deserved higher reimbursement).