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Hospital Finances Inpatient Practice

How Many Patients Should A Hospitalist See A Day?

doctor-with-tablet-14619131467C0This is a burning question that every hospital CEO and medical director wants to know since most hospitals end up subsidizing hospitalists. And the answer is… it depends. Anyone who tells you categorically that the right number for every hospital is 15 patients a day is wrong.

What the hospital wants from the hospitalist is good value for the amount of money that the hospital pays to support the hospitalist. If the hospitalist is seeing too many patients per day, then there is a risk of bad things happening including medical errors, physician burn-out, increasing length of stay, worse patient satisfaction scores, and patient bottlenecks caused by later times of discharge. If your hospitalists are seeing too few patients a day, then you are not getting your money’s worth from them. Here are some of the variables that I look at when I’m deciding if our hospitalists are seeing the right number of patients.

  1. Patient case mix index (CMI). This is a pretty easy number to get from your hospital’s billing office. The higher the number above 1.0, the more medically complex the patients. It will give you an idea of the complexity of patients that the hospitalist is seeing and as a result, how much effort the hospitalist needs to put into the care of a given patient. Here is an example of 3 inpatient services from our own hospital. Service A is an attending-only (non-teaching) service that covers general medical admissions and the ICU – their CMI is 1.45. Service B is a teaching service with residents and a hospitalist attending that takes general medical admissions but does not cover the ICU – their CMI is 1.21. Service C is an attending-only (non-teaching) service that takes mainly cardiac admissions and a consequence, they have a high percentage of observation chest pain admissions – their CMI is 1.10.
  2. Teaching or non-teaching service. The ACGME limits the service census to 10 patients per intern. There is a time trade-off for hospitalists on teaching services: the residents will do a lot of the time-consuming work for the attending hospitalist but the hospitalist has to do uncompensated teaching time; in a healthy teaching service, these should balance out. A teaching service with a cap of 10 patients is rarely a full-day work for the attending hospitalist so he or she has to have some other income generating activity.
  3. Admitting service versus consultative service. Patients with medical illnesses requiring admission to the hospital are by definition sick. On the other hand, those coming in for an elective joint replacement generally have minimal medical conditions or their medical conditions are in good control. The hospitalist co-managing medically stable patients in for elective orthopedic surgeries can see considerably more patients per day than the hospitalist managing medical admissions coming in from the ER.
  4. Advanced practice providers. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can allow a hospitalist to see more patients per day but they come at a cost, generally one-third to one-half the salary of a hospitalist. A physician assistant that allows a hospitalist to see 25 patients a day rather than 15 patients a day is probably worth it. However, if the use of a physician assistant only allows that hospitalist to see 18 patients per day rather than 15 patients per day, it may not be worth it.
  5. ICU or non-ICU. In the ICU, patients need to be re-assessed multiple times a day by the physician, there will be more bedside procedures to be done, and there will be more minute-by-minute orders to be placed. A hospitalist in the ICU may only be able to cover 12 patients a day whereas that same hospitalist may be able to take care of 20 patients a day on a general medicine nursing unit. That has to be tempered with the availability of additional consulting physicians – a general internal medicine hospitalist in the ICU may be able to see more patients if there is a critical care medicine consultant also rounding on the patients.
  6. Day shift versus night shift. There is a lot more work per patient on the census during the day than during the night. During the day, patients need to be rounded on, there are family meetings, and patients need to be discharged. During the night, the hospitalist does emergency admissions and deals with urgent/emergent inpatient issues. A night shift hospitalist may be able to cover 60 patients but a day shift hospitalist, only a quarter of that.
  7. Observation versus regular admission patients. This is a tricky one. On the one hand, observation patients are less medically complicated than regular admission patients and don’t have as much discharge complexity (need for home health, nursing homes, etc.). On the other hand, observation patients have a much shorter length of stay so a hospitalist with a lot of observation patients will be doing more time-consuming admissions and discharges per day than a hospitalist with mostly regular inpatient admissions. Currently in the U.S., the average hospital has 26% of their average patient hours being observation patients. Our hospitalist service that sees primarily cardiac patients has 50% of their patients in observation status; another hospitalist service that sees general medical admissions has 20% of their patients in observation status.
  8. Ease of documentation. If a hospitalist has a really good electronic medical record with vital signs, medication records, progress notes, lab reports, etc. then it can be far more efficient to take care of patients than if medical records are fragmented. For example, at one hospital in our community, the physician progress notes are handwritten in a paper chart, the vital signs and medication records are on one computer system, and the lab and radiology reports are on another computer system. It is neither possible or safe for a hospitalist to see as many patients in this environment as they can in a hospital with a single, integrated electronic medical record.
  9. Patient captivity in the electronic medical record. By this, I mean whether the hospital and the primary care physicians caring for the patients who get admitted to that hospital use the same electronic medical record. If they do, then it is much easier for the hospitalist to do admissions and discharges since much of medical history documentation is already in the electronic medical record. It is much faster to do an H&P if you can draw in the entire past medical, surgical, family, and social history plus all of the patient’s current medications and doses with one click on the computer rather than having to manually enter all of the information.
  10. Non-clinical duties. A hospitalist that is spending 2 hours a day in committee meetings cannot see as many patients per day as a hospitalist who has no committee assignments.
  11. Shift duration. A hospitalist working a 12-hour shift may be able to see 20 patients a day (1.7 encounters per hour) comfortably but that same hospitalist working an 8-hour shift may only be able to see 14 patients a day (1.7 encounters per hour) comfortably. Shift duration also affects the number of shifts per month you should expect your hospitalists to work: if you expect your hospitalists to work 2,300 hours per year, then that is 16 12-hour shifts per month but 24 8-hour shifts per month.
  12. Hospitalist experience. All hospitalists are not equal. A new hospitalist right out of residency is not going to be as efficient and see as many patients as a hospitalist with 20 years of practice experience. High hospitalist turn-over means more new physicians who cannot see as many patients per day as experienced hospitalists. If you force your hospitalists to see too many patients per day, they will quit and you will end up with excessive hospitalist turn-over.
  13. Hospital geography. It can take a hospitalist caring for 15 patients on 6 different nursing stations more time per day to manage than a hospitalist caring for 20 patients on a single nursing station.
  14. Encounters versus census. We often focus on the hospital midnight census to measure hospital capacity. But that only measures the patients who are in a bed at midnight and over the course of the day, there is going to be bed turnover as patients are admitted and discharged. If the patient length of stay is long, then the midnight census will be close to the number of daily patient encounters per physician. If the length of stay is short, then the hospitalists will have a lot more patient encounters per day than the midnight census.
  15. Census variability. Too often, we look at census averages and although this is useful, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, last Monday, we had 109 medical/surgical beds occupied and by Thursday we had 140 – that is a 31-patient swing in just 3 days. This means that the hospitalist services all had more patients per hospitalist on Thursday than they did on Monday. So, if your hospitalist census averages 15 patients per physician but the census fluctuates between 8 and 25, there are going to be days that the hospitalists will have a hard time safely caring for those higher numbers of patients. If there is not a surge plan to bring in “risk call” hospitalists on those high census days, you may need to settle for a lower average daily census per hospitalist in order to accommodate those unpredictable days when the hospital census is usually high.
  16. RVU productivity. This is also a tricky metric because it does not capture all of the work done by a single hospitalist but at least it gives you a ballpark comparative to determine if your hospitalist program as a whole is meeting productivity benchmarks. The MGMA reports that the median total RVUs generated by a hospitalist is 5,900 and the work RVUs are 4,100. These numbers are affected by day versus night shift and other variables.
  17. Robustness of case management. Case management has to happen whether or not a hospital has case managers. A hospitalist who has to do a lot of the discharge planning because of a lack of case managers cannot see as many patients per day.
  18. The local market. If your town has several competing hospitals, then each hospital will be competing with the others for hospitalist and if the hospital down the street has an expectation of 15 patients per day and your hospital’s expectation for the same patient population is 20 patients per day, then you are going to lose valuable hospitalists.
  19. The patient demographic. If your hospital mainly sees patients with good commercial insurance and good primary care providers, then it is easier for the hospitalist to focus on the acute problem that brings the patient into the hospital and it is easier to make discharge arrangements. On the other hand, if you have a high percentage of uninsured or Medicaid patients, then the hospitalist taking care of a patient with pneumonia is likely going to also be spending time tuning up that patients diabetes, heart failure, or hypertension since the only time the patient sees a doctor each year is when he/she is in the hospital.

So what does a medical director or hospital CEO do? I recommend starting with an assumption of 15-18 patients per hospitalist and then working up or down from that number based on the unique features of your own hospital, community, and hospitalist program structure by taking into account the variables I mention above.

August 13, 2016

Categories
Inpatient Practice

Pain, The Most Regulated Vital Sign

PainIn 1996, the American Pain Society introduced the concept of “pain as the 5th vital sign” in order to increase awareness of insufficiently treated pain. As a consequence, in 2001, the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) added a requirement for healthcare providers to ask every patient about their pain in order to avoid under treatment of pain while in the hospital. In 2006, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services required hospitals to ask patients questions about how well patients reported that their pain was treated as part of publically reported CMS hospital quality scorecards. But more recently, for too many patients, attempts to control chronic pain has resulted in opioid addiction. So who is to blame: the JCAHO? Medicare? Hospitals? The pharmaceutical industry? Individual physicians? Well, the answer is… all of the above.

The American Pain Society’s “pain as the 5th vital sign” initiative came out at a time before palliative medicine had really emerged in the United States. Prior to the mid-1990’s cancer pain management was frequently inadequate and there were limited medication options for treating chronic pain. Oxycontin was approved by the FDA in 1995 and released in 1996, the same year of the “pain as the 5th vital sign” initiative. Oxycontin was initially marketed as an “addiction-proof painkiller”. The combination of a powerful new long-acting oral opioid plus the messaging that physicians have not been treating pain adequately rapidly led to excessive prescription of oxycontin which recently has had sales of over $2 billion per year. And the “addiction-proof” opioid turned out to not be addiction-proof at all.

Next enter the JCAHO which publishes standards that hospitals are evaluated on during their every three year hospital site surveys. One of the standards addresses how well the hospital deals with patients’ pain:

JCAHO Standard PC.01.02.07 The hospital assesses and manages the patient’s pain:

  1. The hospital conducts a comprehensive pain assessment that is consistent with its scope of care, treatment, and services and the patient’s condition.
  2. The hospital uses methods to assess pain that are consistent with the patient’s age, condition, and ability to understand.
  3. The hospital reassesses and responds to the patient’s pain, based on its reassessment criteria.
  4. The hospital either treats the patient’s pain or refers the patient for treatment.

It is point number 4 that has led hospitals and physicians to overzealously treat pain. Because a large number of hospitals do not have easy access to inpatient pain management specialists, many feel backed into a corner by point #4, interpreting it as saying that if you do not have a pain service, then you have to treat the patients pain… period. Needless to say, hospitals are strongly motivated to err on the side of overtreatment of pain rather than risk undertreatment which could result in penalties levied by the JCAHO.

Medicare also weighed in on pain management. In 2002, it created the HCAPS patient satisfaction survey that was then implemented in 2006 and the results became publicly available in 2008. The HCAHPS survey asks patients 32 questions about their hospitalization. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires hospitals to administer the survey to patients and then CMS uses the results of that survey as part of the “Hospital Compare” scorecards on the CMS website. In an effort to measure the quality of care provided by physicians, many health systems also use the HCAHPS survey results for individual physician evaluation and in many health systems, physician bonuses and compensation is tied to how well the physician scores on the HCAHPS survey. There are three pain-related questions in the HCAHPS survey:

  1. Did you need medicine for pain? 
    1. Yes
    2. No
  2. During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Usually
    4. Always
  3. During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Usually
    4. Always

It is easy to see how physicians, whose income is tied to how well patients’ pain is controlled, will do everything they can to eliminate pain, including prescribing excessive opioids since there is no penalty for overtreatment but a financial penalty for undertreatment.

So where does that leave us? In Ohio alone, 3/4 of a billion pain pills are prescribed each year – that is 65 pills for each Ohioan. 20% of chronic opioid users are addicted. The State Medical Board of Ohio has implemented several rules and guidelines to reduce the abuse of prescription opioids including an opioid prescription limit of 3 days for pain associated with emergency department or acute care hospital visits, the use of signed “pain contracts” by patients receiving opioids for > 3 months, regular interrogation of the State’s database of opioid prescriptions by outpatient pharmacies for opioid prescriptions > 7 days, and periodic urine drug testing.

One of our medical center’s trauma surgeons, Dr. Danny Eiferman along with one of our pharmacists, Lisa Mostafavifar, have been champions for the responsible use of opioids. When used for brief periods of time in post-op and injured patients, these medications can greatly improve patients’ quality of life. And when used for patients with chronic cancer pain, they can also improve the quality of life. But when overused, opioids can ruin a patient’s life. Here are some concrete recommendations from Dr. Eiferman and Lisa Mostafavifar:

  1. Set realistic patient expectations. A 30% reduction in pain intensity should be the goal (for example, a reduction from 10 to 7 on a pain scale). Complete elimination of pain is rarely achievable and should not be what we tell the patients to expect.
  2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen are often as or more effective than opioids in many types of pain.
  3. Multi-modality therapy (massage, physical therapy, etc.) is effective.
  4. Escalating doses of opioids often does not reduce pain scores.
  5. The function of opioids declines after 6 weeks of use.
  6. A PCA pump may be appropriate if repeated doses of a parenteral opioid are anticipated.

Pain management requires a careful balance of meeting patients’ often very real pain needs and avoiding contributing to the epidemic of chronic opioid pain pill addiction. Each patient is unique and has to be evaluated on an individual basis. Here are some of the general principles that I apply when counseling physicians about opioid prescribing:

  1. If you are an outpatient physician who does not frequently prescribe opioids and are not familiar with the risks and legal requirements, then do not prescribe them for chronic use.
  2. If you prescribed opioids for what should be a self-limited condition and the patient continues to request opioids, that should be a red flag.
  3. Make sure you are adhering to your state medical board’s requirements for opioid prescription.
  4. If you are not a pain management specialist and your patient asks for opioids for > 3 months, get a pain management consult.
  5. If you are an inpatient physician and a patient with known or suspected drug abuse needs inpatient opioids, be sure that they are given by directly observed therapy, preferably in liquid form, to prevent drug hoarding.
  6. If you admit a patient who reports being on chronic opioids confirm this with their primary care provider before either increasing their maintenance drug or discontinuing it.
  7. If you believe that an inpatient who reports being on chronic opioids is abusing or selling their prescription medications and you feel compelled to stop their opioids while the patient is an inpatient, then do so in conjunction wth an addiction medicine consultation.
  8. When considering discontinuing chronic opioids, in either the inpatient or outpatient setting, always consider the risk of opioid withdrawal in the setting of the patients underlying medical condition and if there is concern that withdrawal could be dangerous, then obtain consultation with an addiction specialist to minimize the risk of harm to the patient during opioid withdrawal.
  9. If you have a patient who is frequently admitted for pain management (for example, a patient with sickle cell anemia), develop a patient-specific pain management plan that can be easily located to guide medication prescription each time that patient is admitted.

Ten years ago, the opioid pendulum swung too far one way in one direction. More recently, it has swung too far in the opposite direction. As leaders in medicine, we must strike a balance in the pendulum to promote responsible use of these medications that have both the potential to relieve great suffering but also the potential to cause great harm.

August 10, 2016

 

 

Categories
Inpatient Practice

Medicare’s Stars Don’t Shine Brightly

starThis week, Medicare released its new hospital rating system, The Hospital Compare Overall Hospital Quality Star Ratings. Using this system, Medicare rates hospitals by their quality using a 5 star system with 1 representing the lowest quality hospital and 5 representing the highest quality hospital. In reviewing the methodology, I believe that Medicare has failed epically.

The rating is based on 64 quality measures that Medicare tracks for all hospitals in the United States. Because not all 64 measures will apply to every hospital, Medicare only uses those applicable to a given hospital so that for any given hospital, the quality measures reviewed can be as many as 64 but as few as 9 with an average of 40 per hospital. The full listing of all of the specific quality measures can be found on the CMS website here. The 64 quality measures are grouped into 7 categories including:

  1. Mortality
  2. Safety of care
  3. Readmissions
  4. Patient experience
  5. Effectiveness of care
  6. Timeliness of care
  7. Efficient use of medical imaging

The Comprehensive Methodology Report published by Medicare details exactly how these quality measures are incorporated into the final rating. I would challenge anyone reading this blog to read the report and try to understand it. It is incomprehensible.

From the ratings, 2.2% of U.S. hospitals got a 5-star rating, 20.3% a 4-star rating, 38.5% a 3-star rating, 15.7% a 2-star rating, 2.9% a 1-star rating, and 20.4% were unrated.

So here is the problem. By using mortality measures as one of the main determinants of the rating system, hospitals that take care of sicker patients are going to be ranked lower; for example, tertiary care hospitals, those that have a high percentage of their inpatients admitted through emergency departments, and those that do higher risk procedures such as coronary artery bypass and graft surgery will be ranked lower simply because of the population of patients that they care for.

Even more concerning is the use of 8 quality measures that have to do with readmissions. It is well-established that risks for readmission to the hospital within 30 days of discharge is correlated with lower income patients, older patients, socioeconomically disadvantaged racial groups, and availability of primary care physicians in the community. Hospitals that care for these patients will have a lower ranking.

When the rankings of U.S. hospitals was released this week, there were some surprising (or maybe not so surprising) findings. Hospitals that do not manage complex patients and those that do not do high-risk procedures and surgeries fared very well and were highly ranked. Hospitals that care for the underserved and care for more medically complex patients fared poorly and were ranked very low. As an example, academic teaching hospitals were uniformly ranked low whereas non-teaching hospitals (which tend to manage less medically complicated patients) were ranked quite highly. The Ohio State University Medical Center came in at a 3-star rating which puts it among the top-performing academic medical centers in the nation but I know those other academic medical centers and they are not poor quality hospitals.

Hospital star rating Medicare

So what does this mean to a hospital that would like to have a high Medicare star ranking? Well, in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s treatise “A Modest Proposal”, here are the steps a hospital can take to improve its Medicare ranking:

  1. Eliminate the emergency room. You must avoid sick patients from being in your hospital at all costs and since sick patients come to the emergency room, if you don’t have one, those undesirable patients will go elsewhere.
  2. Do not allow any patient > 65 years old to be admitted to your hospital. First, if the patients are not over 65, they likely won’t have Medicare so Medicare will not track them and second, patients over 65 are more likely to be sicker so you do not want them in your hospital.
  3. Do not admit anyone with an income of less than $24,250 per year. This is the Federal poverty limit for a family of 4 in the United States. Many studies have shown that patients with lower income have higher 30-day readmission rates. Therefore, make them go elsewhere.
  4. Do not admit patients who belong to socioeconomically disadvantaged races. These patients have also been shown to have higher 30-day readmission rates to the hospital. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans should be told to go elsewhere if your hospital wants to be ranked higher by Medicare.
  5. Stop taking trauma patients and close your trauma center if you have one.
  6. If you have an obstetric unit, only take care of wealthy women. Since one of the measures is “Elective delivery prior to 39 completed weeks gestation” and it is known that socioeconomically disadvantaged women have a higher premature birth rate, a hospital wanting to improve its Medicare ratings should not deliver disadvantaged women. Preferably, your hospital should only deliver upper class, non-smoking, caucasian women between the ages of 18-35 with a body mass index of < 30 and no diabetes, no prior history of pre-eclampsia, and no history of being physically or sexually abused. Do not permit twins or triplets to be delivered at your hospital.
  7. Fire anyone who works in your hospital who refuses to get a flu shot. “Healthcare personnel influenza vaccination” is one of the quality measures so if your nurses or doctors don’t get a vaccine, get rid of them in order to improve your rating.
  8. Get rid of all trainees such as residents, medical students, and fellows since hospitals with trainees have a substantially worse rating by Medicare’s criteria.
  9. Above all, do not ever, ever, ever admit patients with chronic pain such as patients with sickle cell anemia or chronic wounds. “Pain management” is one of the quality measures and specifically it revolves around how well pain was controlled. As an alternative, an equally effective strategy is to prescribe ad lib oxycontin to any patient who asks for it in order to improve the pain questions on the Medicare-required patient questionaires.

Obviously, this is absurd. Hospitals exist to take care of sick patients and those hospitals that care for the sickest patients and those that are the most socioeconomically disadvantaged have been unfairly penalized by the new Medicare star ranking system. At best, this system is flawed. At worst, it is discriminatory on a racial, economic, and age basis.

July 29, 2016

Categories
Hospital Finances Inpatient Practice

The Three Most Valuable Specialists In Your Hospital

book and stethescopeFrom reading the title of this post, you’re probably thinking that I am going to list some surgical specialties, interventional cardiology, or gastroenterology since these specialties bring in financially lucrative procedure volume to the hospital. So what I am going to say is going to surprise you. I’m going to make the argument that the 3 most valuable specialists in your hospital are geriatrics, infectious disease, and nephrology. I know what’s going through your mind right now: “What in the world is he thinking about?”. Well, let me make my case and then you decide. And it all starts with CPT.

CPT codes, or the Current Procedural Terminology codes, are the coding numbers that are assigned to every service and procedure that a physician does, from an office visit to an appendectomy. So for example, CPT 99221-99223 code for the 3 different levels of new inpatient encounters and CPT 99251-99255 code for the 5 different levels of inpatient consultation encounters. For decades, those consultation codes charged by a specialist paid more than the standard new patient encounter codes that would be charged for an admission history and physical examination by a generalist. This makes sense – if you are a specialist and providing a specialty consult opinion drawing from your additional years of training and experience, you should be paid more than the generalist doing a standard history and physical exam.

But on January 1, 2010, Medicare got rid of the consultation codes and required specialists to use the same CPT codes that the generalists were using for the admission history and physical exam. The net result of that decision was that cognitive specialists (i.e., those that do not have a procedure that they do) saw a significant drop in their income compared to the procedural specialists (i.e., those that do a procedure, like cardiac stress testing or colonoscopy). The three subspecialties that were affected the most were infectious disease, nephrology, and geriatrics.

Every year, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) publishes the starting salaries for physicians in their first year after completing training. In the past, specialists made more money than generalists. It makes sense… if you do an extra 2-3 years of training as a subspecialty fellow, you should expect a return on investment for that training and so you should expect a higher salary. But since the elimination of the consult codes by Medicare, some specialists, namely those that don’t involve doing lucrative procedures, have seen their salaries drop to the point that there is no longer any return on the investment of the extra years of subspecialty fellowship. Here is the most recent data from the annual MGMA salary survey from 2015 (based on data from 2014).

Physician salary

 

With general internal medicine, family practice, and hospitalist medicine, all you need is 3 years of residency and you are ready to start practicing. For all of the other specialties, you have to do 2-3 years of additional fellowship training. For infectious disease and nephrology, there is no salary advantage to doing those additional years of fellowship training (geriatrics is not listed in the MGMA report but their salary is typically similar to general internal medicine). In fact, the cost of doing the additional years of fellowship training is that you are going to make less than a family physician or a hospitalist who stopped after 3 years of residency.

For any of my colleagues in academic medicine who are looking at these numbers and saying, “I don’t make anywhere near that amount even though I’ve been practicing for years”, relax. The MGMA data is largely derived from private practice physicians and not academic physicians and as has always been the case, you make a lot more in private practice than you do in academics.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by medical students and residents when choosing a subspecialty. Recently, the National Residency Match Program released the results of the 2016 resident and fellow match. The results paint a frightening picture for the future of the cognitive specialties.

NMRP

This graph shows the percentage of available fellowship positions that were filled by graduates of American medical schools (blue) and the percentage of fellowship positions filled by all applicants, including foreign medical graduates (orange). In keeping with the starting salary data, residents just are not going into geriatrics, nephrology, or infectious disease. There is simply no return on the time investment of doing a fellowship.

So what does this mean for hospital medical directors? Geriatricians, nephrologists, and infectious disease specialists are going to become increasingly scarce. It is going to be harder and harder to recruit these specialists. Of equal concern, there is a danger that the best and smartest residents will be drawn to the other specialties, resulting in an overall drop in the caliber of the new cognitive specialists in future years compared to past years.

We are fortunate at our hospital. The Director of the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Chairman of Internal Medicine have placed a high value on geriatrics. We have great nephrologists and one of the premier interventional nephrology programs in the country. And 2 years ago, the Director of the Division of Infectious Disease recruited one of the best clinicians I know as our hospital’s lead infectious disease specialist and director of hospital epidemiology.

If you have a good geriatrician, a good nephrologist, or a good infectious disease specialist, take good care of him or her because he or she is going to be hard to replace. And when you have strategic planning meetings with your hospital business leaders, speak up for these specialties because hiring them now before their supply drops further is going to be a good long-term business decision. For medical students who have always dreamed of a career in one of these specialties, take heart, because in a few years the invisible hand that governs the law of supply and demand in capitalism will cause their salaries to rise again in the future.

July 23, 2016

Categories
Inpatient Practice

The Ten Commandments Of Consultation

Thirty years ago, Dr. Lee Goldman wrote an article titled “Ten Commandments for Effective Consultation”. I’ve taken some liberties with his recommendations in the context of practice in an era of the electronic medical record.

  1. No consult question is too small. If a physician requests a consultation, it is usually because he or she believes that they and their patient will benefit from your expertise.
  2. Weekends are the same as weekdays. Patients should expect the same level of physician care no matter what day of the week they happen to be in the hospital. New consults on Saturdays and Sundays should be seen promptly.
  3. Follow up your test results. Advising what test to order is one half of your responsibility as a consultant. Interpreting that test result in the context of the patient’s illness is the other half. As a consultant, you share responsibility for the tests that you recommend to the primary service.
  4. A consult is a gift. In the business of medicine, consultants survive by providing consultation. Refusing a consult is like refusing a birthday present.
  5. It’s not a request for consultation, it’s a request for collaboration. The admitting physician may not see your note until the next day and so tests or important medication changes may not be ordered for >24 hours unless you ensure that they happen promptly. On teaching services (with residents), call the resident to let him/her know what you want done. On non-teaching services, enter your own orders for tests or medication changes for the problem that you were asked to assist with or call the attending physician with your recommendations. Inpatient medicine has become a team sport and the patient who wins is the one who has the strongest team of physicians, not just a single strong player.
  6. Availability trumps ability. A consultant succeeds by providing the best customer service and the physician requesting consultation is the customer. Consults requested before 10:00 AM should be seen that day. Seeing patients promptly and being available by phone/pager to the primary service is best practice. If you need your car’s oil changed, would you give your business to the garage that is only open from 9 AM to noon or would you go to the garage that is open from 7 AM to 7 PM?
  7. The discharge is the most dangerous procedure in medicine. As a specialist, you are in the best position to know what is needed in follow up. Assist by scheduling outpatient testing or clinic appointments. Give specific recommendations for medication doses and duration after discharge (especially antibiotics). If monitoring labs are necessary for the treatment that you have recommended, either have those labs sent to you for action/review or make sure that there is a clear hand off to another physician who will take responsibility for those lab test results.
  8. Answer the question that you are asked. You may find additional medical problems that need to be addressed but never forget to respond to the initial question.
  9. Distillation is more important than regurgitation. With electronic medical records, it is easy to import pages and pages of test results. The physician requesting your consultation is not requesting you to restate all of the data retrievable from the computer, that physician is requesting your analysis of all of the data. Make your assessment and analysis easy to locate in your note. When it comes to background data in your consultation note, in general, less is more.
  10. Don’t be a one and done. Your initial impression and recommendation are valuable but your follow up of those recommendations is often even more valuable. See your consults daily until the problem that you were asked to address is resolved or stabilized. Consult follow ups should be seen daily, whether that day is a weekday or a weekend.
  11. And the Golden Rule of consultation: Consult unto your neighbor as you would want your neighbor to consult unto you. Enough said.

July 22, 2016