Hospitalist Group Tackles Palliative Care; National Chain Explores Opportunities


At the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, Calif., the 20 members of the hospitalist group were encouraged to study together in preparation for the October 2012 HPM boards. The group undertook weekly study sessions for the five months leading up to the exam. Sixteen hospitalists sat for the exam, along with oncologists, nephrologists, pulmonologists, and primary care physicians from the medical center.

All passed.

“For years, our hospitalist group has been doing actual rounding with the palliative care team on their own patients,” says Shideh Shadan, MD, the hospitalist group leader. “Everyone was on board with palliative care. It is now part of our daily care, and all we had to do was to sit down and study for the exam.”

Most of Kaiser’s HMO medical centers have designated interdisciplinary palliative care consultation teams. The one at San Rafael includes nurses, social workers, chaplains, and a part-time physician who is a hospitalist, Clay Angel, MD. Dr. Angel agrees that a cultural transformation has come about at Kaiser San Rafael through this collaboration. The two services are separate but closely connected.

“In hospital medicine, if you keep farming out what you do to specialists—if you’re not embracing palliative care as a hospitalist—you lose part of your practice,” he says.

Dr. Shadan says the study group “helped us to be more cohesive and more comfortable going to each other to ask for help. Palliative care is part of what we do—part of hospital medicine and of providing good care.”

Meanwhile, North Hollywood, Calif.-based IPC The Hospitalist Company, which is well-established in post-acute and long-term-care settings beyond the hospital walls, is now starting to explore palliative care approaches at the local level in a few of its 35 markets. Heather Zinzella-Cox, MD, who was part of a panel presentation on palliative care at HM13, is hospitalist practice group leader for IPC-Delaware. She also works part time as an associate medical director for a community hospice and helped to develop an inpatient palliative care team at a local community hospital.

“For me, as a post-acute hospitalist, every patient I see, I think about whether palliative care might benefit them,” says Dr. Zinzella-Cox, who is board certified in pain and in hospice and palliative medicine.

She says hospitalists need tools for identifying appropriate palliative care patients, along with training for how to communicate with them around goals of care, including simple language to help cue these conversations. She notes a “significant voltage drop” in information at the time of discharge, and the most careful discharge plans can fall apart in a hurry after the patient goes home.

IPC’s national practice group does not have a current policy or initiative for palliative care; however, there may be opportunities for further integrating palliative care with hospital medicine, says hospitalist Thomas Mathew, MD.

Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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