Practice Management

Hospital medicine in a worldwide pandemic


Nurse practitioners and physician assistants

The role for nurse practitioners and physician assistants in adult hospital medicine groups continues to increase, with 83.3% of groups reporting the presence of PAs and NPs, up from 77% in 2018. NPs/PAs are more likely in multistate hospitalist groups or integrated delivery system practices in hospitals/health systems.

The most common billing model for their professional services is a combination of independent billing by the PA/NP where allowed and shared services billing under a supervisory physician’s provider number – although 8.1% of groups report that their NPs/PAs didn’t generally provide billable services or submit bills for payment.

NPs and PAs spend one-fifth of their time, on average, on nonbillable, value-added work, including dedicated cross-coverage shifts, scheduling, patient assignments, nonbillable clinical work such as glycemic control, and quality improvement and performance improvement activities. “This is one example of the changing skill mix for the hospitalist group, helping the practice become more efficient,” Ms. Flores said.

NPs and PAs provide valuable services, Dr. McNeal added. “But it also takes some investment in time and training for them to be able to practice at the top of their license. My own hospitalist group has a training program for newly hired NPs/PAs. Everyone goes through this orientation for around 6-10 weeks, largely in a shadowing role starting out, until they gradually adjust to more clinical autonomy.”

This onboarding includes real-time evaluations and self-evaluations, and opportunities for conversations with experienced clinicians, working from a list of 30 “bread-and-butter” topics in hospital medicine, she noted.

Pediatric hospital medicine

The 2020 SoHM report includes a greater representation for pediatric hospital medicine, with a 200% increase in the proportion of reporting hospitalist groups that only take care of children. Thus, the pediatric data are more robust – and helpful – than in prior year surveys, said Sandra Gage, MD, SFHM, a pediatric hospitalist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Dr. Gage headed up the PAC’s expanded pediatric data initiative, with targeted outreach to pediatric groups to encourage their participation. She also convened a task force to come up with pediatric-specific questions that were more pertinent and user friendly.

Dr. Sandra Gage, chair of SHM's Pediatrics Committee

Dr. Sandra Gage

One of the important questions for pediatric hospitalists involves scheduling – including variations in length of shifts – which can vary dramatically in pediatric HM groups. “This year we reported by number of hours expected for a clinical FTE, which should be more useful for group leaders,” Dr. Gage said. The median number of hours required per FTE from pediatric hospitalists was fairly consistent at 1,800 per year, with minor variations based on region and academic status.

“I don’t know that there’s anything too surprising in most of the data,” she said, but noted that SHM will now have a better pediatric baseline going forward. The survey also asked how many pediatric hospitalists were board certified in the new subspecialty of pediatric hospital medicine under the program launched last year by the American Board of Pediatrics. Its first qualifying exam was in November 2019. The average was 26%, but the variation between academic and nonacademic programs was unexpected, Dr. Gage said.

Pediatric hospitalists come from a variety of professional specialties besides pediatrics. Nearly half of all programs had at least one med/peds provider, while a smaller number of programs had providers from family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, or palliative care, she noted. Half of pediatric hospitalists reported joining their practice directly out of residency. About 26% of pediatric hospital medicine (PHM) physicians were described as part time, and 34.3% of pediatric groups had the presence of an NP or PA.

“I think PHM evolved a little later than for adult hospitalists, but it has clearly come into its own as a field,” Dr. Gage said. In the COVID-19 crisis, some pediatric hospitalists have been asked to care for adult patients, which necessitated a flurry of activity to refresh their medical knowledge. Where pediatric units existed within the walls of adult hospitals and were temporarily closed for COVID, it’s not clear how many will reopen – perhaps ever.

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