Practice Management

The interplay between staffing and scheduling

Top five findings from the 2020 SoHM


The biennial State of Hospital Medicine (SoHM) Report was released in fall 2020, reflecting surveys collected just as the pandemic was ramping up. Thus, a COVID Addendum of results was collected and published a few months later. What did these reports tell us about existing and developing trends in staffing and scheduling?

Amanda Trask, national vice president, Hospital Medicine Service Line, at Catholic Health Initiatives, Englewood, Colo.

Amanda Trask

Here is a top five list of findings for hospital medicine programs (HMGs) serving adults only. These are just highlights; for further detail, visit the SHM website to learn more and purchase your copy. The information in the SoHM is extraordinarily helpful in planning for your group’s future staffing and scheduling needs.

5. Average group size has increased

Andrew White, MD, SFHM, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, provided a deep-dive discussion on the increase of group sizes in the March 2021 issue of The Hospitalist. Group size has impacted the way a hospitalist group schedules, when reviewing correlating scheduling survey responses.

Group size can have a direct correlation to scheduling methodology. The number of employed/contracted physician hospitalists in individual groups is up about 25%. Alongside the increase in physician hospitalists is an increase in both nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) in adult hospitalist groups, with the largest growth in PAs. In fact, in 2020, the average number of NPs and PAs per hospitalist group is approaching similar numbers.

In 2020, more than half of all programs reported not having a backup call system. One could speculate that the larger group size has allowed adult hospitalist groups better ability to staff upper fluctuations in daily volume. This could have resulted in day-to-day scheduling ease and flexibility.

4. Shift-type is shifting

In scheduling adult hospitalist groups, fewer groups reported dedicated nocturnists and more groups reported dedicated day admitters.

Just above a third of all adult hospitalist programs report having dedicated day admitter shifts, and the presence of nocturnists is at a 6-year low. One speculation that could be made is that hospitalists are making more of an effort to ensure that more admissions are done during the day and not held over for nighttime. This would be consistent with the strong pressure for hospitals to decrease door-to-floor admission times. However, the presence of nocturnists increases steadily with group size. Ninety-four percent of HMGs with 30-49 physician FTEs and 98% of groups with 50 or more physician FTEs reported using dedicated nocturnists.

3. COVID-19 impacts hospitalist workflows

It’s not hard to imagine that COVID-19 has affected all hospitalist groups: adult, pediatric, and adult/pediatric groups. COVID-19 has affected all lives – at home and at work – across the world. More than 80% of all adult hospitalist groups report having implemented changes (beyond dedicated COVID-19 teams) in workflows and/or how work is allocated among its providers. And nearly 20% report that this is likely a permanent change.

2. Schedules have been disrupted by COVID-19

More than half of adult hospitalist groups report having their schedules disrupted by COVID-19. The top two disruptors are loss of staff time due to exposure quarantine, and lost provider time due to COVID-19 illness. All the while, adult hospitalist groups have been taking care of more and more hospitalized patients.

While some groups have not made any changes in scheduling due to COVID-19, many have. Nearly 60% of all groups have increased scheduling flexibility or changed their scheduling model. For about 11% of all groups, this change is likely to be permanent.

1. COVID-19 has changed scheduling methodologies – perhaps for the long-term

Three out of four adult hospitalist groups have created new COVID-19 dedicated teams each day. This has likely had one of the most impacts.

Unit-based assignment reported in the 2020 SoHM was already up from the 2018 SoHM Report (42.7% vs 36%). Now, in addition to nocturnists, day admitter, rounder roles, and unit-based assignments, hospital medicine groups must also incorporate COVID-19 teams into daily scheduling considerations. One in five groups report this change may likely be a permanent addition to the hospitalist schedule. Wow.

As we think forward to the 2022 SoHM, staffing and scheduling of adult hospital medicine group will be a key topic of the survey. How does COVID-19 change hospital medicine groups in the medium and long term? One thing is for sure – hospital medicine groups are resilient and have proven to be creative in ensuring our hospitalized patients are well cared for.

Post your thoughts and questions for your peer network on the SHM Online Community: HMX. Let’s keep the conversation going on how we can help each other create sustainable staffing and scheduling models that are continuously adapting to our peripandemic environment.

Ms. Trask is national vice president of the Hospital Medicine Service Line at Catholic Health Initiatives in Englewood, Colo.

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