More and more data supports the fact that hospitalist staffing is rapidly becoming the foundation for modern hospital care. In our 2015 Staff Care Survey of Temporary Physician Staffing Trends, for instance, physicians specializing in this specialty ranked third on the list of all requested physician types, in terms of locum tenens staffing assignments, nationwide.
That's remarkable growth for a specialty that's existed for just 20 years. The term "hospitalist" was coined in 1996 by Drs. Wachter and Goldman in The New England Journal of Medicine to describe “a new breed of physicians” focused on hospitalized patients. Since then, the number of physicians practicing in this specialty has grown almost exponentially, "from about 11,000 in 2003 to about 50,000 in 2015," according to the Advisory Board Company, drawing from research by The New York Times.
And these numbers are expected to continue to rise. As the hospitalist specialty becomes more convenient for employers seeking dedicated internal and primary care practitioners — as well as for physicians seeking reliable career paths in a healthcare industry that's placing more and more administrative burdens on private practice — many new physicians are now embracing the hospitalist specialty. According to an analysis brief from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), "many medical students aspire to become hospitalists" even before entering their residencies; a 2015 survey showed that 49.8% "of recent medical school graduates ... indicated that they plan to work as hospitalists."
So, why has hospitalist staffing skyrocketed to become one of the most in-demand physician specialty types, and, more importantly, what benefits can forward-thinking hospitalist staffing services offer America's hospitals and healthcare employers?
How Hospitalist Staffing Benefits Hospitals, Physicians and Patients
In their 1996 article, Wachter and Goldman attributed the rise of hospitalists to the "explosive growth of managed care," which "led to an increased role for general internists and other primary care physicians in the American health care system." Hospitalist growth has also been tied to the "drive for efficiency in health care," per the Advisory Board report, which links the growing utilization of hospitalists as an effort by hospitals to "increase efficiency and demonstrate high quality outcomes" (emphasis ours).
"This change is welcome in many respects, since generalists have perennially been undervalued by health care institutions, payers, and even patients," Wachter and Goldman add, noting that the hospitalist specialty gives physicians the chance to practice primary care and internal medicine in a way that seems more valued within hospitals — a value that these physicians don't always see when practicing in, say, family medicine.
This is a clear benefit to physicians who practice in the hospital medicine specialty, as well as an important incentive for them to continue to work in essential primary care and internal medicine disciplines (most hospitalists specialize in internal medicine; a report from Becker's Hospital Review, based on an analysis of 2012 Medicare payment data, puts the percentage of hospitalists specializing in internal medicine at 85 percent).
Working as a hospitalist also appeals to physicians who are more comfortable with the prospect of reliable hospital employment than with the more tenuous prospects of independent, private practice. Given the uncertainty and complexity of self-employment in an increasingly complicated healthcare industry — where new laws and regulations are not only frequent and often confusing, but also in seemingly constant flux thanks to endless political debate and legislative upheavals — hospitalist employment means physicians can work in an environment with minimum paperwork hassles and administrative overhead and more focus on patient care.
This translates into a benefit to patients offered by hospitalist staffing. These are professionals who are experts at navigating a hospital setting's policies and protocols within that setting. This means more efficient care, and more attentive caregiving — to which patients are likely to respond favorably.
Improved care and patient satisfaction is, of course, is a benefit to hospitals and healthcare employers, too. But the greatest benefit of hospitalist staffing to employers remains sheer efficiency: As the Becker's report points out, hospitalists "provided 67 percent of the 51.6 million hospital-based services in 2012" — twice as much as services provided by "traditionalists."
And as the number of physicians specializing in hospital medicine grows, and the number of those specializing in primary care and family practice subsides, hospitals can expect a larger supply of the former. "Hospitalists are likely to continue to grow in number, given that they make up a consistently larger share of each successive primary care–trained GME cohort and the majority are between the ages of 35 and 50," the AAMC brief states. "This trend has implications for the primary care workforce supply, especially since outpatient PCPs are growing at a slower rate" (emphasis ours).
It's also worth noting that the hospitalist specialty's focus on hospital-oriented care also means that hospitals can employ physicians who are specifically trained to be familiar with practicing within a hospital environment.
Fitting Hospitalist Recruitment into the Bigger Picture of Healthcare Staffing
It's clear, then, that the level of efficiency and comprehensive supply of physicians within the hospitalist discipline can be of enormous practical value for employers. However, as the Advisory Board cautions, "leaders should keep several key trends and best practices in mind as they look to get the most out of their hospitalist program."
"For example, hospital leaders are increasingly recognizing that a high-performing hospitalist program is no longer just a tool for efficiency," the report adds. "According to a survey we conducted last year, hospitalists now care for more than half of the hospital's patients, and their performance impacts about 80% of the hospital's value based performance metrics.
"However, in our research we found th45at the hospitalist program often isn't fully aligned with hospital strategy. The challenge is that alignment is about more than performance incentives or accountability; it's about shared priorities between both groups. High-performing hospitalist programs all have one thing in common — they have a shared understanding with hospital leaders about what the program can achieve, and the resources they need to do so."
It's essential, then, for healthcare employers to recruit hospitalists within the framework of larger strategic staffing goals. As a company of AMN Healthcare, Staff Care can offer not only premium, nationwide locums hospitalist staffing services that align with your long- and short-term goals, we can also plug you into a larger network of physician, nursing and allied staffing services designed to ensure you get the most out of your hospitalist recruitment efforts in every possible way.
To discuss your hospitalist staffing needs — or any other healthcare recruitment issue — we encourage you to contact us here. For immediate staffing needs, you can also fill out a locum staffing request at the form on this page.
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