Medicolegal Issues

Pediatric Hospital Medicine


Denver—The Pediatric Hospital Medicine 2005 conference, held July 28–31, got off to a rousing start with a networking reception that preceded the keynote lecture on Thursday evening, July 28. Dan Rauch, MD, cochair of the Ambulatory Pediatric Association (APA) Special Interest Group in Hospital Medicine, welcomed the 200+ attendees. He described the meeting as the result of tremendous cooperation among the APA, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the SHM.

“It’s been a tremendous pleasure to work with all three organizations,” said Dr. Rauch. “We have been truly blessed with leaders who think that growth of the field is more important than individual turf battles. I highly recommend that everybody in the room become members of all three organizations.”

Dr. Rauch later told The Hospitalist that he was surprised by how many attendees actually weren’t members of any of the three organizations.

The mostly young pediatric hospitalists in attendance came from all over the United States and Canada. According to keynote speaker Larry Wellikson, MD, CEO of SHM, the median age of the typical hospitalist is 37, and fewer than 10% are 50 or older. Dr. Rauch said the typical pediatric hospitalist is even younger.

In fact, the pediatric hospitalist profession is still in its infancy, a point underscored by the panel discussion during Friday’s plenary session, “Future Directions.” The conversation centered on whether pediatric hospitalist medicine is truly a new subspecialty or simply a job type within general pediatrics. Most attendees seemed to agree that in practice it is a new subspecialty, but gaining acknowledgement of that fact from the professional organizations, academics, hospital administrators, insurers, general practice pediatricians, and even from some pediatric hospitalists themselves is the continuing challenge.

Professional advancement was a theme every speaker emphasized, beginning with Dr. Wellikson.

You are building and defining the hospital of the future.

—Larry Wellikson, MD, CEO of SHM, explaining that the legacy of this generation of hospitalists will be to define hospital medicine.


“My life’s goals were to be dean of a med school when I was 40 and a United States senator at 50,” said Dr. Wellikson during his keynote address. He may not have achieved those particular goals, but, he revealed, “believe it or not, my life has been even better than that.”

Dr. Wellikson, who discussed the current status of hospital medicine, is a sought-after speaker and consultant who helps hospitals and physicians understand the current medical environment and create strategies to succeed in it.

“You are building and defining the hospital of the future,” Dr. Wellikson told participants, explaining that the legacy of this generation of hospitalists will be to define hospital medicine. “[Hospitalists] are going to be the most important part of the hospital of the future.

“Hospitals are changing,” he said, describing the hospital of the future as patient-centered with medical care driven by measurable data and practiced in teams. With emergency departments overcrowded and hospitals and ICUs running at capacity, he predicts that $20 billion per year will be spent on hospital construction over the next 10 years. He foresees primary care pediatricians giving up inpatient care.

“Hospitalist medicine is by far the fastest growing medical specialty in the country,” said Dr. Wellikson. Currently, there are approximately 11,295 hospitalists, and he predicts that there will be 30,000 by the end of the decade. Approximately 9% of hospitalists are pediatricians.

According to Dr. Wellikson, 30% of 4,895 community hospitals today have hospitalists on staff, with about eight hospitalists per hospital. The larger the hospital, the more likely it is to have hospitalists:

  • 71% of hospitals with more than 500 beds have hospitalists on staff; and
  • 50% of hospitals with more than 100 beds have hospitalists.

“We believe at SHM that in 15 years 25% of the CEOs will be hospitalists and 15% of CMOs will be hospitalists,” said Dr. Wellikson, “ ... and you’re not all going to be able to take time off to go get an MBA. We’re going to be in the business of educating you to be a leader, how to be a manager. ... If you will commit to creating the hospital of the future, [SHM] will commit to giving you the tools to do it.”


Cinci CPGs

For clinical guidelines and related documents developed by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Clinical Effectiveness Team for various conditions, including 14 pediatric pathways, visit


During the keynote, Dr. Wellikson set the stage for a compensation discussion that continued throughout the conference, both during sessions and in networking conversations.

“One of the things that makes the compensation model so unfair for hospital medicine,” said Dr. Wellikson, “is that the way we pay for medical care in this country is so screwed up. We pay by the unit of the visit and by the unit of the procedure. And so it is much better to do something wrong and do it a lot than it is to sit down and spend an hour talking with a family. And God forbid that you’re asked to sit on a QI committee; that’s really down time. ... And God forbid that instead of earning a living and seeing patients for three days you’re wasting your time here in Denver trying to be a better doctor. Our system doesn’t reward that.”

Several attendees mentioned that their hospitals consider them loss leaders. “Don’t allow yourself to be called a loss leader,” said Linda Snelling, MD, in her Friday session on contract negotiation. “You’re a system sustainer. If you want this profession to be respected, you’ve got to be paid for it.” Dr. Snelling is chief of pediatric critical care and associate professor of pediatrics and surgery (anesthesiology) at Brown University, Providence, R.I.

“Hospitalists need to convince ourselves of the value we bring to our institutions and to our patients,” said Mark Joffe, MD, director of community pediatric medicine for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Wellikson emphasized that hospitalists do add value to hospitals—whether it’s educating, whether it’s throughput, whether it’s 24/7, whether it’s improving the quality. He said that hospital administrators—the CMOs at your hospital—understand that. “The reason that leadership and that hospitalists are important is that hospitals see you as the solution to many hospital issues,” he said. “When anthrax was thought to be a public health problem, every hospital started a bioterrorism committee and put the hospitalist on it.

“Almost every place I go, they want more of you. You’re better for their bottom line,” he continued. “If they’re ever going to be a better hospital, they need more of you, and they need you motivated, and they need you seeing the right number of patients so that you have the time to do a better job.”

According to Dr. Wellikson, the expectations of hospitalists is that they will improve efficiency, save the hospital money, provide measurable quality improvement (creating standards and measuring compliance), collect data, do things no one else will (e.g., provide uncompensated care, serve on committees).

Dr. Snelling agreed. “The benefit of hospitalists is not in what you bill,” she said, “but in systems improvements, patient satisfaction, QI, initiatives to start or change a program, teaching, cost-savings, and value-added services you provide to the hospital. ... Start with value. Figure out what you want. Identify common ground. Bargaining is the last thing you do.”

Hospitalists create a seamless continuity from inpatient to outpatient, from the emergency department to the floor, from the ICU to the floor. They improve efficiency via throughput and early discharge. They help uncrowd the emergency department and open ICU beds. “We make other physicians’ lives better,” said Dr. Wellikson. “We do a lot of things for the generalists so that they can go and have a better life.”

There is a definite bright side to being a hospitalist right now. According to Dr. Wellikson there are many more jobs than hospitalists—a trend that he predicts will continue for at least for the next five years.

“Don’t let the fact that we have a totally screwed up healthcare system get you down,” he said. “You’re not replaceable. The service you provide, someone must provide. Your hospital has more wastage in durable goods than it spends on pediatric hospitalists. They will pay for expertise.”

Dr. Snelling advised, “Be direct and shameless about compensation. No surgeon works for free unless they want to; no hospitalist should work for free unless that’s your selected charity, and my favorite charity is not the hospital I work for.

“Continually self-promote,” she continued. “Make sure [the person determining your compensation] knows what your successes are. If you’re doing something that’s successful—you get praise, you get a grant, you get a nice letter from a parent—pass that on. Document your value. If you save your hospital a million bucks, why shouldn’t you get a hunk of that? The CEO’s job is to pay you as little as possible.”

One attendee interjected, “I feel uncomfortable with the idea that what I’m doing as a hospitalist is worth more than what my private-practice colleagues are doing. I don’t want to be offensive.”

To which Dr. Snelling replied, “We’re not talking about being elitist. ‘Mine’s bigger than yours.’ What you’re talking about is the differences between C care—the minimum standard—and A care—the hospitalist. ... Who in this room wants to go to an average doctor?”

Dr. Snelling’s bottom line: “My message is not to gouge the system; it’s about respect. In an ideal situation, everybody gains.”


“This is a specialty,” emphasized Dr. Snelling during the contract negotiation session.

On the other hand, during the “Future Directions” plenary panel Dr. Wellikson said, “It is almost not relevant whether there is board certification or no board certification.” He described board certification as a way to measure quality.

“Clearly we need to find a way to validate what we’re doing for our good as well as for the good of our patients,” said Doug Carlson, MD, director of the Pediatric Hospital Medicine Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at Washington University, St. Louis.

Stephen Ludwig, MD, associate chair for medical education at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia presented the case for becoming a board-certified specialty. Some benefits: recognition, prestige, job security, and professional advancement.

“Is this just a job, or do you want to fit into—become a thread in—the fabric of organized medicine?” asked Dr. Ludwig. Most important, though, would be the impact on child health. “Is [board certification] good for children and their parents? Unless you can demonstrate that, it won’t happen.”

According to Dr. Ludwig, becoming a board-certified specialty requires a defined body of knowledge, scientific basis, a sufficient number of practitioners, viable academic training programs, sufficient number of trainees willing to go into those fellowship programs, a board exam, geographic diversity, creation of new knowledge (or at least the application of existing knowledge in new ways), the support of national societies and organizations, and the consent of other specialties, such as internal medicine and family practice. It also takes time—likely years.

Some questions pediatric hospitalists still need to consider: Can you fill a void? Is there sufficient novel material for creating a certifying exam? Are there enough people who would take this exam? How will physicians view maintenance of certification? Where will the naysayers come from? What will be the response from primary care general pediatricians? What will be the response from academic generalists/pediatricians? What will be the subspecialist response?

Dr. Ludwig expressed one concern succinctly: “You might ultimately decrease the number of practitioners willing to make the commitment.”

Dr. Wellikson concurred. “Those of you who are group leaders are constantly in a recruiting mode,” he said. “You need something to help you determine who is good and who is not, but adding three years may drive those who would have been great pediatric hospitalists to become great pediatric anesthesiologists.”

In the end, the group could not agree on an answer. “You have an amazing amount of excitement,” said Dr. Ludwig. “Temper your excitement with focus. You need to decide whether becoming another subspecialty is what you want.”


The conference offered a broad range of learning opportunities.

Those interested in research heard about opportunities to collaborate and learned how to share resources and develop research projects.

Educators—and aren’t all hospitalists involved in education at some level?—learned “Seven Simple Secrets to Successful Supervision” from Vinny Chiang, MD, chief of inpatient services at Children’s Hospital, Boston. He says the single most powerful question you can ask as an educator is, “What do you think?”

“The med student may say, ‘I think the kid is sick.’ The intern may say, ‘I think it’s rejection.’ The resident may say, ‘We need to distinguish between infection and rejection,’” said Dr. Chiang. By asking this question, he said, “You make that trainee an active participant.”

Evidence-based medicine and the use of pathways were also on the agenda. The discussions started with the basics, defining terms. According to Dr. Chiang, evidence-based medicine is, “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making a clinical decision.” (See also “Evidence-Based Medicine for the Hospitalist,” p. 22.)

Pathways, developed from that best evidence, are tools that guide clinical care. “It’s the same as with calculators and PDAs,” said Stephen E. Muething, MD, associate director of clinical services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “A pathway is a tool that allows a resident to spend their time identifying the 20% who shouldn’t be on the pathway and figuring out what to do for them.”

“Medicine can be systematized,” said Dr. Wellikson. “You can have best practices.”

Attendees expressed concerns that pathways may not leave room for a hospitalist’s judgment.

“There is no pathway that addresses 100% of patients,” said Dr. Muething. “A pathway should be defined as a guideline not a standard of care. From a medicallegal standpoint, you need to document why you deviated from a pathway. You still need to use clinical judgment. Don’t forget to think.”

One reason to use pathways, according to Dr. Muething, is that you can more rapidly identify what works and what doesn’t. “If everyone is doing it the same way,” he said, “then even if everyone is doing it wrong, you’ll be able to identify the problem and resolve it more quickly, improving outcome.”

Zoster can occur in immunized kids. Immunization does not preclude disease. We all know that breakthrough can happen.” The question is, “If a kid’s not immunized but exposed to a milder case, will he/she get the milder case? Case studies indicate that’s a possibility. Vaccine may not prevent but mute disease.

—Erin Stiucky, MD


Clinical topics were also on the agenda. On the final day of the conference, Erin R. Stucky, MD, director of graduate medical education, an associate clinical professor in the University of California at San Diego Department of Pediatrics, and a pediatric hospitalist at the Children’s

Hospital and Health Center San Diego, tackled “The Top Five in ’05,” discussing:

  1. Bronchiolitis;
  2. Emerging pathogens;
  3. Venous thrombosis;
  4. Fungal infections; and
  5. Kawasaki disease (KD).

In a whirlwind review, she presented the latest research on each of these topics.

Bronchiolitis: Surveys reveal that there’s a lot of variability in how hospitalists currently manage bronchiolitis, beginning with whether or not viral testing is helpful. “Testing, do we care? Does more than RSV matter?” asked Dr. Stucky. Her literature review of studies on bronchiolitis reveals, “Actually knowing the viral type is probably not helpful. Think before you test. Prevention is key.”

She also mentioned the need for additional studies on the use of heliox and CPAP in treating the condition.

Emerging pathogens: Dr. Stucky rapidly reviewed West Nile virus, coronavirus, varicella, influenza, MRSA, and pneumococcus. Discussing West Nile, Dr. Stucky said that diagnosing children with the condition can be tricky, particularly because the “predictive value [of diagnostic tests] isn’t 100%,” making the history and exam crucial. Of particular note for pediatric hospitalists, she said, is that the virus can be transmitted in blood, in utero, and via breast milk.

When speaking about coronavirus, Dr. Stucky said, “Transspecies jump (from civets, raccoons, ferrets, mice) is a great concern.” For diagnostic purposes, “Consider travel and exposure to animals.”

On varicella, Dr. Stucky said, “Zoster can occur in immunized kids. Immunization does not preclude disease. We all know that breakthrough can happen.” The question is, “If a kid’s not immunized but exposed to a milder case, will he/she get the milder case? Case studies indicate that’s a possibility. Vaccine may not prevent but mute disease.”

On influenza, the discussion focused upon the reality of the avian strain causing human disease and increasing resistance as farmers use prophylactic doses of antibiotics for their poultry. There is worldwide effect of both human and avian strains. “The hospitalist as leader: public speaking in anxious times and real crises” is critical, said Dr Stucky.

Venous thrombosis: Kids with venous thrombosis typically have at least one known risk factor, with diabetics at increased risk. Thrombolytics can help save a limb or an organ, but “long-term prophylaxis is controversial,” said Dr. Stucky.

Fungal infections: Truly eradicating a fungal infection is difficult, said Dr. Stucky, with recurrence common. There’s currently no empirical evidence to support combination therapy. More research is needed.

KD: “Treat early and often,” said Dr. Stucky. Treatment goals are to stop inflammation, inhibit thrombosis, and avoid stenosis. Because stenotic lesions progress, “long-term therapy and follow-up are needed.” Children with KD should avoid ibuprofen. They should receive the influenza vaccine, but defer measles and varicella vaccines for 11 months after intravenous immunoglobulin.


The pediatric hospitalists who met in Denver left the conference energized, armed with new leadership skills and clinical knowledge, and asking for more. Organizers are now starting to plan for Pediatric Hospital Medicine 2007. The Hospitalist will keep you posted with information on the next conference as soon as it’s available, and we’ll publish half a dozen additional articles related to pediatric hospital medicine in the coming months.

Keri Losavio is a medical journalist with more than 10 years’ experience writing about healthcare issues.


In The Literature

Systemic Steroid Use in Pediatric Sepsis Patients

Review by Julia Simmons, MD

Markovitz BP, Goodman DM, Watson RS, et al. A retrospective cohort study of prognostic factors associated with outcome in pediatric severe sepsis: what is the role of steroids? Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2005:6:270-274.

The use of systemic steroids in septic adults with relative adrenal insufficiency has recently been shown to decrease mortality. The use of systemic steroids in the septic pediatric population remains a topic of debate and research focus. The goal of this retrospective cohort study was to determine factors associated with mortality in pediatric patients with severe sepsis treated with systemic steroids.

The authors searched the Pediatric Health Information System for their data. This system is a database for 35 pediatric hospitals within the Child Heath Corporation of America, a children’s hospital consortium. The International Classification Disease Codes for infection were used to search the database for patients from birth through 17 with sepsis during a one-year period.

Severe sepsis was defined as one or more organ dysfunction secondary to an infectious etiology during which the patient required mechanical ventilation and vasoactive medications. The primary outcome variable was mortality. Other variables analyzed included duration of hospitalization, duration of mechanical ventilatory support and vasoactive medications. Predictor variable was the use of parenteral systemic steroids given at least one day during which the patient required artificial ventilation and vasoactive medications.

There were 6,693 participants in the study. Mean days of ventilation was 24.4 +/- 37.3, median 13. Mean number of days hospitalized was 46.8 +/- 51.3 with a median of 30. The mean number of days requiring cardiac supportive medications was 7.8 +/- 9.9 with a median of five. The use of systemic steroids (hydrocortisone, dexamethasone, or methylprednisolone) with increased age, decreased hospital volume, and a history of a hematological/oncological disease were associated with an increased mortality. Even after controlling for the variables, steroids were a strong predictor of mortality. The overall mortality rate in the study was 24%.

In summary, there was an increase in mortality associated with systemic steroid use in the severely septic pediatric patient. As noted by the authors, the study was limited because there was no stratification for disease severity. Further, the rationale for giving the steroids was not known. Overall, larger prospective studies with controlled protocols are necessary in order to make recommendations regarding the use of systemic steroids in septic pediatric patients. TH

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