The term “academic hospitalist” has come to mean more than a mere affiliation to an academic medical center (AMC). Academic hospitalists perform various clinical roles like staffing house staff teams, covering nonteaching services, critical care services, procedure teams, night services, medical consultation, and comanagement services.
Over the last decade, academic hospitalists have successfully managed many nonclinical roles in areas like research, medical unit leadership, faculty development, faculty affairs, quality, safety, informatics, utilization review, clinical documentation, throughput, group management, hospital administration, and educational leadership. The role of an academic hospital is as clear as a chocolate martini these days. Here we present some recent trends in academic hospital medicine.
From SHM’s State of Hospital Medicine report (SoHM)2014 to 2018 data, the median compensation for U.S. academic hospitalists has risen by an average of 5.15% every year, although increases vary by rank.1 From 2016 to 2018, clinical instructors saw the most significant growth, 11.23% per year, suggesting a need to remain competitive for junior hospitalists. Compensation also varies by geographic area, with the Southern region reporting the highest compensation. Over the last decade, academic hospitalists received, on average, a 28%-35% lower salary, compared with community hospitalists.
Patient population and census
Lower patient encounters and compensation of the academic hospitalists poses the chicken or the egg dilemma. In the 2018 SoHM report, academic hospitalists had an average of 17% fewer encounters. Of note, AMC patients tend to have higher complexity, as measured by the Case Mix Index (CMI – the average diagnosis-related group weight of a hospital).2 A higher CMI is a surrogate marker for the diagnostic diversity, clinical complexity, and resource needs of the patient population in the hospital.
Productivity and financial metrics
The financial bottom line is a critical aspect, and as a report in the Journal of Hospital Medicine described, all health care executives look at business metrics while making decisions.3 Below are some significant academic and community comparisons from SoHM 2018.
- Collections, encounters, and wRVUs (work relative value units) were highly correlated. All of them were lower for academic hospitalists, corroborating the fact that they see a smaller number of patients. Clinical full-time equivalents (cFTE) is a vernacular of how much of the faculty time is devoted to clinical activities. The academic data from SoHM achieves the same target, as it is standardized to 100% billable clinical activity, so the fact that many academic hospitalists do not work a full-time clinical schedule is not a factor in their lower production.
- Charges had a smaller gap likely because of sicker patients in AMCs. The higher acuity difference can also explain 12% higher wRVU/encounter for academic hospitalists.
- The wRVU/encounter ratio can indicate a few patterns: high acuity of patients in AMCs, higher levels of evaluation and management documentation, or both. As the encounters and charges have the same percentage differences, we would place our bets on the former.
- Compensation per encounter and compensation per wRVU showed that academic hospitalists do get a slight advantage.