Needed in critical care – but not credentialed
One of the biggest frustrations for family medicine hospitalists is clarifying their role in the ICU. SHM’s Education Committee recently surveyed hospitalist members who practice in the ICU, finding that at least half felt obliged to practice beyond their scope, 90 percent occasionally perceived insufficient support from intensivists, and two-thirds reported moderate difficulty transferring patients to higher levels of intensive care.7 The respondents overwhelmingly indicated that they wanted more training and education in critical care medicine.
“I want to highlight the fact that in some settings family physicians are the sole providers of critical care,” Dr. Goldstein said. Meanwhile, the standards of the Leapfrog Group, a coalition of health care purchasers, call for ICUs to be staffed by physicians certified in critical care, even though there is a growing shortage of credentialed intensivists to treat an increasing number of older, sicker, critically ill patients.
Some internal medicine physicians don’t want to have anything to do with the ICU because of the medical and legal risks, said David Aymond, MD, a family physician and hospitalist at Byrd Regional Hospital in Leesville, La. “There’s a bunch of sick people in the ICU, and when some doctors like me started doing critical care, we realized we liked it. Depending on your locale, if you are doing hospital medicine, critically ill patients are going to fall in your lap,” he said. “But if you don’t have the skills, that could lead to poor outcomes and unnecessary transfers.”
Dr. Aymond started his career in family medicine. “When I got into residency, I saw how much critical care was needed in rural communities. I decided I would learn everything I could about it. I did a hospital medicine fellowship at the University of Alabama, which included considerable involvement in the ICU. When I went to Byrd Regional, a 60-bed facility with eight ICU beds, we did all of the critical care, and word started to spread in the community. My hospitalist partner and I are now on call 24/7 alternating weeks, doing the majority of the critical care and taking care of anything that goes on in an ICU at a larger center, although we often lack access to consultation services,” he explained.
“We needed to get the attention of the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) to communicate the scope of this problem. These doctors are doing critical care but there is no official medical training or recognition for them. So they’re legally out on a limb, even though often they are literally the only person available to do it,” Dr. Aymond said. “Certainly there’s a skills gap between HTFMs and board-certified intensivists, but some of that gap has to do with the volume of patients they have seen in the ICU and their comfort level,” he said.
SHM is pursuing initiatives to help address this gap, including collaborating with SCCM on developing a rigorous critical care training curriculum for internal medicine and family medicine hospitalists, with coursework drawn from existing sources, said Eric Siegal, MD, SFHM, a critical care physician in Milwaukee. “It doesn’t replace a 2-year critical care fellowship, but it will be a lot more than what’s currently out there for the nonintensivist who practices in the ICU.” SCCM has approved moving forward with the advanced training curriculum, he said.
Another priority is to try to create a pathway that could permit family medicine–trained hospitalists to apply for existing critical care fellowships, as internal medicine doctors are now able to do. SHM has lobbied ABFM to create a pathway to subspecialty certification in critical care medicine, similar to those that exist for internists and emergency physicians, Dr. Goldstein said, adding that ACGME, which controls access to fellowships, will be the next step. Dr. Aymond expects that there will be a lot of hoops to jump through.
“David Aymond is an exceptional hospitalist,” Dr. Siegal added. “He thinks and talks like an intensivist, but it took concerted and self-directed effort for him to get there. Family practitioners are a significant part of the rural critical care workforce, but their training generally does not adequately prepare them for this role – unless they have made a conscious effort to pursue additional training,” he said.
“My message to family practitioners is not that they’re not good enough to do this, but rather that they are being asked to do something they weren’t trained for. How can we help them do it well?”
1. Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) Practice Analysis Committee. 2018 State of Hospital Medicine Report
2. American Academy of Family Physicians Member Census, Dec 31, 2017.
3. Jones KC et al. Hospitalists: A growing part of the primary care workforce. AAMC Analysis in Brief; June 2016; 16(5):1.
4. Berczuk C. Uniquely positioned. The Hospitalist; July 2009.
5. Iqbal Y. Family medicine hospitalists: Separate and unequal? Today’s Hospitalist; May 2007.
6. Kinnan JP. The family way. The Hospitalist; Nov 2007.
7. Sweigart JR et al. Characterizing hospitalist practice and perceptions of critical care delivery. J Hosp Med. 2018 Jan 1;13(1):6-12.