Background: Quality of acute surgical care in the US is threatened by a shortage of surgeons performing emergency procedures because of rising costs of uncompensated care, liability concerns, declining reimbursement, and lifestyle considerations. In July 2005, we restructured the general surgery service at our medical center into a hospitalist model to improve patient access to surgical care.
Study design: We hypothesized that a surgical hospitalist program could improve timeliness of care, emergency department (ED) efficiency and physician satisfaction, resident supervision, continuity of care, and revenue generation. We reviewed our program after 1 year, including patient demographics, diagnosis, and time to consult.
Results: Three surgical hospitalists cared for 853 patients during 1 year. Patients ranged from 17 to 100 years of age and presented with abdominal pain (66%), infection (18%), malignancy (6%), hernia (4%), and trauma (3%). Fifty-seven percent of consults originated from the ED; 8% came from other surgeons. Mean time to consult was 20 minutes. A survey of ED physicians reported shorter ED length of stay, better patient satisfaction, improved professionalism and resident supervision, and better overall quality of care. Average waiting time for patients with acute appendicitis to undergo operation was reduced from 16 +/- 10 hours to 8 +/- 4 hours (p < 0.05). Forty-two percent of consults resulted in an operative procedure, and revenue increased as the number of billable consults rose by 190%.
Conclusions: The surgical hospitalist model provides a cost-effective way for general surgeons to provide timely and high-quality emergency surgical care and enhance patient and referring provider satisfaction.