Are GI hospitalists the future of inpatient care?


Dear colleagues and friends,

Dr. Gyanprakash A. Ketwaroo

After an excellent debate on the future of telemedicine in GI in our most recent Perspectives column, we continue to explore changes in the way we traditionally provide care. In this issue, we discuss the GI hospitalist service, a relatively new but growing model of providing inpatient care. Is this the new ideal, allowing for more efficient care? Or are traditional or alternative models more appropriate? As with most things, the answer often lies somewhere in the middle, driven by local needs and infrastructure. Dr. Tau and Dr. Mehendiratta explore the pros and cons of these different approaches to providing inpatient GI care. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on the AGA Community forum and by email (

Gyanprakash A. Ketwaroo, MD, MSc, is an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. He is an associate editor for GI & Hepatology News.

The dedicated GI hospitalist: Taking ownership not ‘call’

By J. Andy Tau, MD

In my experience, a GI hospitalist provides mutual benefit to patients, employers, and consulting physicians. The patient benefits from more expedient consultations and expert endoscopic therapy, which translates to shorter hospitalizations and improved outcomes. The employer enjoys financial benefits as busy outpatient providers can stay busy without interruption. Consulting physicians enjoy having to only call a single phone number for trusted help from a familiar physician who does not rotate off service. Personally, the position provides the volume to develop valuable therapeutic endoscopy skills and techniques. With one stable physician at the helm, a sense of ownership can develop, rather than a sense of survival until “call” is over.

J. Andy Tau, MD, practices with Austin Gastroenterology in Austin, Texas

Dr. J. Andy Tau

As a full-time GI hospitalist for a large single-specialty group, I provide inpatient GI and hepatology consultation from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday. I do not rotate off service. I cover three hospitals with a total of 1,000 beds with two advanced practice providers and one part-time physician. Except for endoscopic ultrasound, I perform all other endoscopic procedures. The census is usually 25-35 with an average of 10-15 new consults per day.

The most important benefit of a dedicated GI hospitalist is providing expedited consultation and expert endoscopy for patients. I can offer emergent (<6 hour) endoscopy for any patient. An esophageal food impaction is usually resolved within an hour of arrival to the ED during the day. I can help a surgeon intraoperatively on very short notice. As for acute GI bleeding cases, I oversee resuscitative efforts, while the endoscopy team prepares my preferred endoscopic equipment, eliminating surprises and delays before endoscopy. I have developed an expertise in hemostasis and managing esophageal perforations, along with a risk tolerance that cannot be matured in any setting other than daily emergency.

I have enacted evidence-based protocols for GI bleeding, iron-deficiency anemia, colonic pseudo-obstruction, pancreatitis, and liver decompensation, which internists have adopted over time, reducing phone calls and delays in prep or resuscitation.

While the day is unstructured and filled with interruptions, it is also very flexible. As opposed to the set time intervals of an outpatient clinic visit, I can spend an hour in a palliative care meeting or revisit high-risk patients multiple times a day to detect pending deterioration. Combined endoscopic and surgical cases are logistically easy to schedule given my flexibility. For example, patients with choledocholithiasis often can have a combined cholecystectomy and supine endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in the OR, shaving a day off admission.

My employer benefits financially as the outpatient doctors can stay busy without interruption from the hospital. With secure group messaging, we are able to make joint decisions and arrange close follow up. The relative value units earned from the hospital are high. Combined with proceeds from the professional service agreement with the hospital, they are more than enough to cover my compensation.

Any physician in need of a GI consult needs only to call one number for help. I make it as easy as possible to obtain a consult and never push back, as banal as any consult may seem. I stake my reputation on providing a service that is able, affable, and available. By teaching a consistent message to consulting physicians, I have now effected best evidence-based practices for GI conditions even without engaging me. The most notable examples include antibiotics for variceal bleeding, fluid resuscitation and early feeding for acute pancreatitis, risk stratification for choledocholithiasis, and last but not least, abandoning the inpatient fecal occult blood test.

I am on a first-name basis with every nurse in the hospital now. In exchange for my availability and cell phone number, they place orders for me and protect me from avoidable nuisances.

Many physician groups cover the inpatient service by rotating a week at a time. There can be at times a reluctance to take ownership over a difficult patient and instead a sense of “survival of the call”. However, in my job, “the buck stops with me” even if it is in the form of readmission. For example, I have to take some ownership of indigent patients who cannot easily follow up. Who will remove the stent I placed? How will they pay for Helicobacter pylori eradication or biologic therapy? Another example is diverticular bleeding. While 80% stop on their own, I take extraordinary efforts to endoscopically find and halt the bleeding in order to reduce the recurrence rate. I must find durable solutions because these high-risk patients are my responsibility again when they bounce back to me via the ED.

By way of volume alone, this position has allowed me to develop many therapeutic skills outside of a standard 3-year GI fellowship. While I did only 200 ERCPs in fellowship, I have become proficient in ERCP with around 400 cases per year (mostly native papilla) and have grown comfortable with the needle knife. I have learned endoscopic suturing, luminal stenting, and endoscopic vacuum-assisted therapy for perforation closure independently. Out of necessity, I developed a novel technique in optimizing the use of hemostatic powder by using a bone-wax plug. As endoscopy chief, I can purchase a wide variety of endoscopy equipment, compare brands, and understand the nuances of each.

In conclusion, the dedicated GI hospitalist indirectly improves the efficiency of an outpatient practice, while directly improving inpatient outcomes, collegiality, and even one’s own skills as an endoscopist. While it can be challenging and hectic, with the right mentality towards ownership of the service, it is also an incredibly rewarding position.

Dr. Tau practices with Austin Gastroenterology in Austin, Tex. He disclosed relationships with Cook Medical and Conmed.


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