Practice Management

Hospital medicine in a worldwide pandemic

SHM releases 2020 State of Hospital Medicine report


Every 2 years the Society of Hospital Medicine’s Practice Analysis Committee (PAC) surveys hospitalist groups nationwide on such key practice parameters as compensation, services provided, hours of work, and participation in leadership roles. Combined with compensation and productivity data on adult and pediatric hospitalists collected by the Medical Group Management Association, licensed to SHM for inclusion in this report, the State of Hospital Medicine (SoHM) report is the most authoritative and comprehensive source of information regarding contemporary hospitalist practice.

Leslie Flores, MHA, SFHM, partner, Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants

Leslie Flores

This year’s biannual report is based on survey responses submitted between Jan. 6 and Feb. 28, 2020, by 502 hospitalist group practices. That’s slightly fewer groups reporting data than for past surveys, but these groups were larger, on average, resulting in more full-time equivalents (FTEs) incorporated into the results, said PAC member Leslie Flores, MHA, SFHM, of Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. A total of 19.7% of the reporting groups provided pediatric hospital medicine data only, a much larger proportion than in past years.

The report is slated for publication in September, and SHM members can purchase it at a discount in print or electronic versions. “Our sense is that a lot of the fundamental information in the report will not have changed that much from 2018,” Ms. Flores said. “But these results convey the state of the field prior to the world-altering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on hospitals of all sizes and settings.” How the hospital business and the practice of hospitalist groups have been and will be impacted by the pandemic, obviously, aren’t reflected in the data.

“We are finalizing a supplemental survey to go out to members at the end of the summer, specifically asking how COVID has impacted their hospitalist groups,” Ms. Flores said. These COVID-19 supplemental results will be released after the main report, sometime around the end of September. But results from the main survey, showing consistency in a number of key parameters, indicate that hospitalists continue to have a large and essential role in the U.S. health care system.

The leadership offered by hospitalists in the U.S. health care system’s response to surges of COVID-19 patients in many hospitals only underscores their importance, Ms. Flores added. “Hospitalists have definitely proven their worth. Imagine what the pandemic would have been like for hospitals if our specialty hadn’t been well-positioned to respond.” Hospitalists also showed an ability to adapt quickly to crises on the ground. But financial pressures imposed by the pandemic, combined with other trends previously in play, suggest that demands to cut costs and do more with less will be relentless as the field – and the world – tries to pull out of the pandemic crisis.

Compensation trends

One of the most eagerly anticipated findings in the SoHM is compensation. The median compensation for all adult hospitalists at the beginning of 2020 was $307,633 (with an average of $317,640), higher in the Midwest and lower in the East. The average base rate share of hospitalist compensation was 81.3%, with 11.6% based on productivity and 7.1% for performance – scored on such measures as patient satisfaction; accuracy and/or timeliness of documentation, billing, and coding; clinical processes; early morning discharge orders and times; and readmissions rates. A total of 46.6% of responding groups said they anticipated an increase in budgeted FTEs in the next year, while 51.2% expected to stay the same.

Dr. Tresa McNeal of Baylor, Scott & White, Temple, TExas

Dr. Tresa McNeal

Subsidies or financial support for hospitalist practices break down in different ways, but in 2020 the median figure for financial support provided per adult hospitalist FTE was $198,750 (average, $201,760). This suggests that hospitals continue to see hospitalists as valued partners in health care, with useful knowledge of how the various components of the health care system work, said Tresa McNeal, MD, a hospitalist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, Temple, Tex., and a member of the PAC.

Scope of practice

Scope of practice for the hospitalist model continues to evolve, with increased demand for comanagement roles as other medical specialties are less inclined to visit patients in the hospital. Surgical comanagement accounted for much of that growth, but there were significant rates of comanagement for neurology, gastrointestinal and liver medicine, cardiology, and palliative care.

“Comanagement is a broad term without a single clear definition,” Ms. Flores said. “But when I talk about it, I refer to a broader array of hospitalists interacting with specialists.” The hospitalist‘s role could be as a consultant, or taking responsibility for admitting and attending.

Other identified roles played by hospitalists in adult-only groups included providing care for patients in the ICU (59.6% of reporting groups); primary responsibility for observation/short stay units, rapid response teams or code blue/cardiac arrest teams; cross-coverage for patients admitted without a hospitalist; and performing procedures such as vascular access, lumbar puncture, paracentesis, and thoracentesis. The hospitalist role’s in the ICU likely increased in many hospitals confronting COVID surges, Ms. Flores said.

The median number of shifts performed per year by a full-time hospitalist physician was 182.0 (average, 182.3), with 12 hours as the most common average duration for a shift in a daytime schedule. The 7-days-on/7-days-off model remained the most popular way to schedule adult hospitalists, at the same rate as in 2018. Backup coverage is another important issue for hospitalist groups, with 52.6% reporting no formal backup system. For those with a backup system, the highest proportion paid no additional compensation to the physician for being on the on-call schedule, but additional compensation was paid if called into the hospital.

Presence of nocturnists was reported by 71.9% of responding groups, slightly down from 2018, but increasing with the size of the group. “We continue to see a trend for dedicated nocturnists,” said Dr. McNeal. Hospitals see the benefits from the presence of a nocturnist, reflected in pay differentials or requiring fewer full-time shifts from nocturnists. It’s more consistent, higher quality of care delivered by people who are dedicated to that role.

In other findings from the survey, turnover in adult hospitalist groups is 10.9%t, which is up from 2018 but down from 2016. Unit-based assignment, also known as geographical rounding, was utilized by 42.7% of responding adult groups, with likelihood increasing with the size of the group. Unfilled positions were reported by 73.5% of groups, with an average of 11.2% of positions unfilled at the time of the survey.

The use of telemedicine in the hospital setting is evolving, likely considerably accelerated of necessity by the pandemic. “Many of us are using telemedicine with COVID patients in order to decrease clinicians’ time in the room, and to find a way to use a work force that has to be on leave,” Dr. McNeal said.


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