Benefits, drawbacks when hospitalists expand roles

Hospitalists can’t ‘fill all the cracks’ in primary care


As vice chair of the hospital medicine service at Northwell Health, Nick Fitterman, MD, FACP, SFHM, oversees 16 HM groups at 15 hospitals in New York. He says the duties of his hospitalist staff, like those of most U.S. hospitalists, are similar to what they have traditionally been – clinical care on the wards, teaching, comanagement of surgery, quality improvement, committee work, and research. But he has noticed a trend of late: rapid expansion of the hospitalist’s role.

Speaking at an education session at HM18 in Orlando, Dr. Fitterman said the role of the hospitalist is growing to include tasks that might not be as common, but are becoming more familiar all the time: working at infusion centers, caring for patients in skilled nursing facilities, specializing in electronic health record use, colocating in psychiatric hospitals, even being deployed to natural disasters. His list went on, and it was much longer than the list of traditional hospitalist responsibilities.

“Where do we draw the line and say, ‘Wait a minute, our primary site is going to suffer if we continue to get spread this thin. Can we really do it all?” Dr. Fitterman said. As the number of hats hospitalists wear grows ever bigger, he said more thought must be placed into how expansion happens.

The preop clinic

Efren Manjarrez, MD, SFHM, former chief of hospital medicine at the University of Miami, told a cautionary tale about a preoperative clinic staffed by hospitalists that appeared to provide a financial benefit to a hospital – helping to avoid costly last-minute cancellations of surgeries – but that ultimately was shuttered. The hospital, he said, loses $8,000-$10,000 for each case that gets canceled on the same day.

Dr. Efren Manjarrez

Dr. Efren Manjarrez

“Think about that just for a minute,” Dr. Manjarrez said. “If 100 cases are canceled during the year at the last minute, that’s a lot of money.”

A preoperative clinic seemed like a worthwhile role for hospitalists – the program was started in Miami by the same doctor who initiated a similar program at Cleveland Clinic. “Surgical cases are what support the hospital [financially], and we’re here to help them along,” Dr. Manjarrez said. “The purpose of hospitalists is to make sure that patients are medically optimized.”

The preop program concept, used in U.S. medicine since the 1990s, was originally started by anesthesiologists, but they may not always be the best fit to staff such programs.

“Anesthesiologists do not manage all beta blockers,” Dr. Manjarrez said. “They don’t manage ACE inhibitors by mouth. They don’t manage all oral diabetes agents, and they sure as heck don’t manage pills that are anticoagulants. That’s the domain of internal medicine. And as patients have become more complex, that’s where hospitalists who [work in] preop clinics have stepped in.”

Studies have found that hospitalists staffing preop clinics have improved quality metrics and some clinical outcomes, including lowering cancellation rates and more appropriate use of beta blockers, he said.

In the Miami program described by Dr. Manjarrez, hospitalists in the preop clinic at first saw only patients who’d been financially cleared as able to pay. But ultimately, a tiered system was developed, and hospitalists saw only patients who were higher risk – those with COPD or stroke patients, for example – without regard to ability to pay.

“The hospital would have to make up any financial deficit at the very end,” Dr. Manjarrez said. This meant there were no longer efficient 5-minute encounters with patients. Instead, visits lasted about 45 minutes, so fewer patients were seen.

The program was successful, in that the same-day cancellation rate for surgeries dropped to less than 0.1% – fewer than 1 in 1,000 – with the preop clinic up and running, Dr. Manjarrez. Still, the hospital decided to end the program. “The hospital no longer wanted to reimburse us,” he said.

A takeaway from this experience for Dr. Manjarrez was that hospitalists need to do a better job of showing the financial benefits in their expanding roles, if they want them to endure.

“At the end of the day, hospitalists do provide value in preoperative clinics,” he said. “But unfortunately, we’re not doing a great job of publishing our data and showing our value.”


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