Harnessing the Hospitalist Movement (Part 1 of 4)

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Specialists today are taking a much more sophisticated approach to managing the care of their patients. Gone are the days when a doctor would throw himself on the altar of all-hours, any-location availability. Ultimately, nothing leads to burn-out and professional fatigue more than a physician taking an imbalanced approach to his personal health and well-being.

However, this is exactly the kind of sacrifice many healthcare organizations need specialists to make. After all, who else will care for their hospital-bound patients, making sure they receive the quality treatment needed?

This question has led to the rise of the hospitalist movement, a relatively new specialty (the term was first used in 1996) involving physicians who focus on hospital medicine, managing the on-site care and transition of patients after the specialist has provided for their physical needs.

Many of the healthcare organizations HCE interviews have experimented with or fully implemented a hospitalist program. Nationally, 60 percent of all hospitals are following suit. The Society of Hospital Medicine reports that there are now 30,000 hospitalists, up from 8,000 in 2003.

This relatively simple concept caught on so quickly that the hospitalist specialty itself has now divided into multiple subspecialties.

As Joe Cantlupe observed in an article for HealthLeaders Media, “Increasingly, hospitalists are gaining more responsibilities in areas such as monitoring patients day to day, ordering tests, performing surgeries, handling specialized care, or taking on leadership roles. Their specializations are many—from laborists who handle OB-GYN cases to surgicalists who specialize in trauma care and neurohospitalists who handle brain cases, as well as nocturnalists, who work strictly on the overnight shift.” He adds that “hospitalists are among healthcare’s fastest-growing specialties.”

In an age of quality metrics and core measures, hospitalist programs are reaping great rewards for many organizations: length of stay is down, patient satisfaction is up. In many ways, hospitalists are “quarterbacks” for the entire care team, one hospitalist director observed to Cantlupe, especially as healthcare organizations around the country move toward value-based care.

So, how can you as a healthcare executive harness this movement for the maximum benefit (and ROI) of your organization? Over the next few postings, we’re going to look at the strategies Cantlupe outlines in his article. Maybe you’ll find some helpful advice therein.

In the meantime, does your healthcare organization use hospitalists? How has it benefited from their presence on the care team? What lessons have you learned?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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