obgyn hospitalists

The ABCs of OBGYN Hospitalists

OBGYN hospitalists are generally board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists who focus their practice on hospitalized women and generally do not have an outpatient office. Hospitals hire them for several reasons but the most important is for safety. Especially in obstetrics, the clinical situation can change so rapidly that unless a physician is actually in labor and delivery to respond on an emergency basis there can be a bad outcome for mother or baby or both.

Just like the rapid penetration of internal medicine hospitalists, OBGYN hospitalist programs are spreading. Although a few programs have been around for many years, in 2007 there were only approximately 15 in the United States, and currently there are over 244 with two to six new programs starting up monthly. It certainly is not standard of care yet but I’m predicting it will become standard of care within three to five years. Some people use the word Laborist, but a better term is OBGYN hospitalist for those programs in which there is responsibility not only of labor and delivery, but also of gynecologic emergencies in the main ED (Emergency Department). OB hospitalists only stay in labor and delivery and the private OBGYNs staff the main ED.

Financially speaking, almost all programs lose money. Depending on the volume, that loss can be between $1-$200,000 or up to 1 million dollars. Roughly, a program costs $1.5 million and the income it generates can bring in $500-$750,000 a year. Hospitals with 2000 deliveries or more have a lower amount of loss. It is important to look at a wider budget rather than simply profit or loss because:

  1. Bad outcomes lead to malpractice costs
  2. Hospitalists can increase the volume of high-risk pregnancies that can help to fill up the neonatal ICU, which can be a profit center for hospital
  3. Retention and recruitment of not only physicians but of the expensive-to-train labor and delivery nurses

Many hospitals help pay for the program by transforming their outpatient OB triage areas into OB emergency department (OB ED). This increases the facility fee for evaluation substantially.

Many hospitals are facing the same problems:

  1. OBGYNs do not want to take call
  2. There are unassigned patients
  3. There may be midwives and family practitioners doing deliveries without backup
  4. No one wants to accept the transfer of high-risk patients
  5. Patients wait a long time for evaluation
  6. Maternal Fetal Medicine specialists want to do an outpatient practice only and not come to the hospital
  7. No one wants to do vaginal births after cesarean section (VBACs)
  8. The cesarean section rate is too high

An OBGYN hospitalist can help with all of these issues, making the private practitioners happy by taking the call, caring for the unassigned and high-risk patients, consulting for the family practitioners and midwives, evaluating patients promptly, working collaboratively with the MFM specialist, encouraging VBAC by taking responsibility while the private practitioners stay in their office, and studies prove that having professional full-time OBGYN hospitalists reduces the C-section rate.

There are no great downsides other than the direct costs to the hospital. Initially the private practitioners are skeptical, but within a few months they become the program’s biggest fans. Patients are satisfied and studies prove this. Nurses are supported and empowered. It can become a very important competitive advantage for a hospital that has a nearby competing hospital.

 

Character Traits of an ObGyn Hospitalist

Through my experience as an ob.gyn. hospitalist, it quickly became clear which things work well and which things do not in an ob.gyn. hospitalist program.

Although internal medicine and pediatrics have been using the hospitalist model for quite some time, it is still a model in its infancy for ob.gyn. medicine. With hospitals investing significant amounts of funding to start ob.gyn. hospitalist programs, there is neither time nor money to waste on pursuing the things that don’t work. The expectation is that even though it’s a new program, it should work almost immediately.

Those who have been through the torturous process of establishing, integrating, and/or converting to any new program in any aspect of life know that this is a fairly unrealistic expectation. There are, however, some basic ingredients or attributes that I believe must be present to lessen the pain and increase an ob.gyn. hospitalist program’s chances of success.

The following are some qualities that should be considered when ob.gyn. hospitalist candidates are interviewed:

• A physician who is a seasoned professional. Finding and then hiring the right people are always challenges in any industry, but even more so for ob.gyn. hospitalist recruitment. The best candidates for ob.gyn. hospitalist jobs need to be seasoned board-certified physicians. Not only will they be involved in every true ob.gyn. emergency, but they must also be able to educate and hold their ground against other, sometimes older ob.gyns., family physicians, and midwives who may not be practicing the most up-to-date, evidence-based medicine. This is not a job for a beginner. Physicians with expert clinical skills are essential for a program’s success, as they are the first responders and must be able to deal with or assist in every situation that presents itself.

• A physician who is a team player. The team needs to be flexible and responsible. Smooth handoff rounds, conveying all necessary information, are essential. An outgoing physician needs to introduce the incoming physician to any active patients. Scheduling needs to be fair and allow call dates to be traded to fit everyone’s schedule. Obviously, team members won’t know if they will be compatible until they start working together, but hospitalists must be willing to leave their egos at the door to be “team players.”

• A doctor who is willing to serve. The private practitioner obstetrician needs to keep her own patient happy and safe, whereas ob.gyn. hospitalists need to keep all the patients and all the labor and delivery professionals (and sometimes the gynecology emergency department professionals) safe and happy. Ob.gyn. hospitalists need to go out of their way to ask nurses and physicians the question: Is there anything I can do to help?

One of the great things about being a hospitalist is that the work is so varied, but programs need hospitalists who are willing to help anyone who asks and are comfortable doing so – from the private practitioner who needs a quick ultrasound to determine position, to the OR tech who requires help moving a patient. Some physicians may think these tasks are just scut work, but they are essential to developing a safe, efficient high-reliability organization (HRO) that can avoid catastrophe in a real crisis or emergency.

• A physician who inspires trust. Hospitalists are consistently meeting patients for the first time. They won’t have developed a relationship with patients over the previous months of pregnancy, so ob.gyn. hospitalists need to be able to bond with them and their families quickly. For example, one of the tools I find to be effective when I deal with a mom who has experienced a failed home birth by a lay midwife is this simple phrase: “I know this is not what you planned, but I am so glad that you are here with us so we can take care of you.”

• A doctor who is a good communicator. Hospitalists need to be able to solve problems quickly by using tact, diplomacy, and professionalism at all times. Being involved with emergencies and bad outcomes, they need to be comfortable with debriefing the team and communicating sensitively with patients and families. Highly developed communication skills also extend to documenting the chart and liaising with an absent private practitioner, the nursing team, and the hospital’s administration.

I was one of the original ob.gyn. hospitalists at my community hospital in Bellingham, Wash. Having Dr. Chris Swain’s company, the OB Hospitalist Group, consult helped us to quickly establish a successful new program. Our team of four hospitalists is employed by St. Joseph’s Medical Center. It is a successful program that I’m proud to say encompasses these aforementioned ingredients: We smoothly integrate our scheduling and handoffs; the local obstetricians, family practitioners, and midwives trust us and appreciate our work; and we regularly foster open communication by attending the nurses’ handoff meetings as well as huddling with the anesthesiologist and nurse team leader.

Originally published SEPTEMBER 25, 2012 for ehospitalistnews.com