Inpatient-only GI hospitalist: Not so fast
By Vaibhav Mehendiratta, MD
Over the past 2 decades, the medical hospitalist system has assumed care of hospitalized patients with the promise of reduced length of stay (LOS) and improved outcomes. Although data on LOS is promising, there have been conflicting results in terms of total medical costs and resource utilization. Inpatient care for patients with complex medical histories often requires regular communication with other subspecialties and outpatient providers to achieve better patient-centered outcomes.
Providing inpatient gastrointestinal care is complicated. Traditional models rely on physicians trying to balance outpatient obligations with inpatient rounding and procedures, which can result in delayed endoscopy and an inability to participate fully in multidisciplinary rounds and family meetings. The complexity of hospitalized patients often requires a multidisciplinary approach with coordination of care that is hard to accomplish in between seeing outpatients. GI groups, both private practice and academics, need to adopt a strategy for inpatient care that is tailored to the hospital system in which they operate.
As one of the largest private practice groups in New England, our experience can provide a framework for others to follow. We provide inpatient GI care at eight hospitals across northern Connecticut. Our inpatient service at the largest tertiary care hospital is composed of one general gastroenterologist, one advanced endoscopist, one transplant hepatologist, two advanced practitioners, and two fellows in training. Each practitioner provides coverage on a rotating basis, typically 1 week at a time every 4-8 weeks. This model also offers flexibility, such that we can typically accommodate urgent outpatient endoscopy for patients who may otherwise require inpatient care. Coverage at the other seven hospitals is tailored to local needs and ranges from half-day to whole-day coverage by general gastroenterologists and advanced practitioners. We believe that our model is financially viable and, based on our experience, inpatient relative value units generated are quite similar to a typical day in outpatient GI practice.
Inpatient GI care accounts for a substantial portion of overall inpatient care in the United States. Endoscopy delays have been the focus of many research articles looking at inpatient GI care. The delays are caused by many factors, including endoscopy unit/staff availability, anesthesia availability, and patient factors. While having a dedicated inpatient GI Hospitalist offers the potential to streamline access for hospital consultations and endoscopy, an exclusive inpatient GI hospitalist may be less familiar with a patient’s chronic GI illness and have different (and perhaps, conflicting) priorities regarding a patient’s care. Having incomplete access to outpatient records or less familiarity with the intricacies of outpatient care could also lead to duplication of work and increase the number of inpatient procedures that may have otherwise been deferred to the outpatient setting.
Additionally, with physician burnout on the rise and particularly in the inpatient setting, one must question the sustainability of an exclusively inpatient GI practice. That is, the hours and demands of inpatient care typically do not allow the quality of life that outpatient care provides. Our model provides time for dedicated inpatient care, while allowing each practitioner ample opportunity to build a robust outpatient practice.
Some health care organizations are adopting an extensivist model to provide comprehensive care to patients with multiple medical problems. Extensivists are outpatient primary care providers who take the time to coordinate with inpatient hospitalists to provide comprehensive care to their patients. Constant contact with outpatient providers during admission is expected to improve patient satisfaction, reduce hospital readmissions, and decrease inpatient resource utilization.
In conclusion, our experience highlights sustained benefits, and distinct advantages, of providing inpatient GI care without a GI hospitalist model. The pendulum in inpatient care keeps swinging and with progress arise new challenges and questions. Close collaboration between gastroenterologists and health systems to develop a program that fits local needs and allows optimal resource allocation will ensure delivery of high-quality inpatient GI care.
Dr. Mehendiratta is a gastroenterologist with Connecticut GI PC, Hartford, and assistant clinical professor in the department of medicine at the University of Connecticut, Farmington. He has no relevant conflicts of interest to disclose.