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    Hospitalists, PCPs bad at communication and its hurting patient care

    Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Stephen C. Schimpff, MD, a quasi-retired internist, professor of medicine and public policy, former CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center, and author. This month, Schimpff is joined by primary care physician Andy Lazris, MD, for this commentary. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.


    The American health care delivery system is reaching a point of crisis. 

    Costs are escalating as outcomes and quality of care are diminishing.  Our healthcare focuses on crisis management and treating problems aggressively with medicines and interventions of uncertain benefit, while neglecting true health and wellness.


    More from Dr. Schimpff: Primary care has lost its quarterback position in patient care


    It is estimated that $1 trillion annually is being spent on unnecessary care, much of which occurs in the hospital, and some of which leads to harm. Medicare, although concerned about rising health care costs, does little to address the real issues and actually but subtly encourages aggressive management when less could indeed be more. Hospital-acquired infections and death from medical errors are far too numerous, often occurring in patients who did not have to be hospitalized in the first place. Patients and physicians are frustrated, while private insurers and both Medicare and Medicaid are becoming unable to fund this excessively costly care without raising premiums or exhausting trust funds. Something certainly must be done.

    We wish to focus on one glaring problem occurring in hospitals that is relatively easy to fix and whose resolution could improve outcomes. Currently, as many hospitals close their doors to primary care physicians (PCPs) and instead rely on hospitalists, there often is a lack of communication between these doctors that can lead directly to costly mistreatment. 

    A true and common story will set the stage.

    Mrs. P suffers from dementia and lives in a nursing home. One day, she became unresponsive.  The nurse on duty could find no obvious reason and so immediately called 911 and sent her to the hospital. While she quickly woke up, the emergency medicine physician admitted her for further evaluation. Her assigned hospitalist found bacteria in the urine and treated her for a urinary tract infection, calling in an infectious disease consultation and starting her on a potent intravenous antibiotic. He also requested consultations from a cardiologist and a neurologist to determine the cause of her unresponsiveness, and they ordered further tests including an MRI and an echocardiogram. Mrs. P became more confused, was exposed to aggressive evaluation and treatment, and was losing her strength as a result of bed confinement. She was ultimately sent back to her facility after tens of thousands of dollars of medical care, worse off than when she arrived. She was fortunate to have not suffered further harm from her hospital-induced delirium and the potent medicines she received.


    Hot topic: Do younger doctors outperform older physicians?


    Let’s dissect what happened and why.

    The emergency medicine physician was faced with a lethargic person who could not give a coherent history, hence she was subjected to an extensive work-up and then admitted to the hospital. The hospitalist, likewise, was faced with a patient he had never met before, with only the emergency room records as guidance. He detected neurologic, infectious and cardiac problems, and so called for specialist consultations and extensive testing.

    Next: Growth has been phenomenal

    Andy Lazris, MD, CMD
    Andy Lazris, MD, CMD, is a primary care physician whose private practice focuses on geriatric patients, especially those residing in ...


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    • Anonymous
      Thanks for such a nice article, Dr. Schimpff. Our team at Medssenger agrees with problems and vision discussed, and we have developed a cross-platform app that could serve as a solution. Not only does Medssenger enable communication between hospitalist and PCP, we support coordination and full-on workflow among the two. We go across transitions of care and organizational boundaries, automatically managing workflow to completion. We look forward to contributing to better health care, and we will continue to follow your articles and books.
    • Anonymous
      10 years back pay. Remove EHR. Remove HIPPA. Remove regulations. True Tort reform. Let the Physician walk the hall and run the show like it's suppose to be. The way we say it should be. Let them decide the regulations with true peer pressure. When I was in school I would've done anything to make it the best for patients as the peer review was unlike any other force around. The insurance companies and Medicare have billions. Let them figure out how to pay fee for service. That's what will fix the system overnight. With privilege comes responsibility. It's the only way it will work.
    • Anonymous
      Very true example given. To start with there is a philosophy in hospitalist thinking that every "problem" needs a complete workup. Just like in this case bacteuria (most likely NOT from a cath specimen) was worked up and treated. Probably a false positive from collection technique. As a gyn I can't tell you how many times I was consulted for a "yeast" infection to see a patient in a hospital that didn't even have an exam room to do a pelvic exam. The other problem of course is Uncle Sam. There was a time that the primary care doctor was the center of all treatment but that was before when they were still paid to make rounds on their hospitalized patients. No longer such and therefore no continuity of care. Most PCP no longer have hospital privileges. The other issue is that the hospitalists are frequently seeing 10 or more NEW patients with complicated problems each day in addition to making rounds on the patients they already had. An impossible task to follow through on. Treat the abnormal lab and use specialists as extensions. And of course on the following day a new hospitalist is on call. Finally there is the failure of the nursing home. Dump the patient into the hospital on every chance possible. My MIL, 92 years old, is in a nursing home now. No transfer to a hospital without our permission no matter what and she is under DNR rules. I really don't blame the hospitalist as they are behind the eight ball here. I really think that the PCP is at fault. For so many years they wanted to be treated as the center of all care and then they dropped the ball. When I operated on a patient I made rounds every day until the patient went home and then followed them up post-op. No extra pay for the rounds even if it meant months of visits. PCP's decided that it was not worth fighting for with Medicare to get paid and that if they weren't getting paid they were not going to see their patients. So sad. Glad I am retired.
    • [email protected]
      Dear Dr. Anonymous, I disagree with your comment that "the PCP is at fault". I am a family physician with over 22 years of private practice experience. I still continue to practice inpatient and outpatient medicine. There is plenty of blame to go around as to why the system is breaking down. However, I can assure you that greed on the part of family physicians is the least likely explanation. We did not "drop the ball". The "ball" got dropped on us. You are a retired OB/GYN and not a "PCP" so you really have no idea what kind of wrecking ball exists today in the form of patient metrics, regulations, insurance hassles, paperwork and unrealistic patient expectations (last internet search) that are thrust on the family doctor. When you practiced OB, I believe nearly 50 percent of medical school graduates went into a primary care practices, today, it is less than 25 %. Now, look at U.S. demographics, we are getting older. It is a pretty simple diagnosis really. There is more work to do. There are fewer physicians and new medical graduates willing to do it. It is harder to wade through the bureaucracy to get the job done.There are more medical management options for the primary care physician to consider.The lack of collegiality and condescending attitudes from some academics and specialists do not help solve the shortage of primary care physicians either. Your statement, "if they weren't getting paid they were not going to see their patients" referring to primary care physicians is unfortunate and as you say, sad. I hope that our primary care thought leaders and medical societies will avoid being complicit with insurance, government and hospital programs that sabotage the primary care physician's effort to care for our patients. In the meantime, I will develop systems that work for our group and patients. I would just like others that do not really know what the day of a family physician looks like to stay out of the way.
    • [email protected]
      What I am and what is really disappearing in medicine is the era of the solo practitioner. It has become very difficult to continue to be the jack of all trades and all things to all of your patients as what used to be the case or so it was believed by many of our breed. The era of the Mom and Pop family practice is just about over. Obviously medical care has evolved into a cacophony and not a symphony of instruments each one trying to become the voice of the whole and solo family practice has become the orchestral triangle drowned out by the much larger and much louder instruments around it. We have been boxed out of hospital care, boxed out of nursing home care, relegated to a position not that of GATEKEEPER but that of DOORMAT. Insurance companies, the government, the legal profession and yes even organized or is it disorganized medicine are culling the herd of the once mighty species much as the sharpshooting hunters did to the buffalo who once roamed the plains in the millions until they came up against the rapid firing Winchester rifle. It is hard to say goodbye to a profession to which you gave your "blood, toil. tears and sweat" for many a year. At some point in the not to distant future things will probably settle down and doctors, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and others will find or be assigned their particular niche until the next major development in medical care emerges; that of TOTAL COMPUTERIZED ROBOTIC MEDICAL CARE and SURGERY with little or no human involvement. Are you listening Stephen Hawking?

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