Reports From the Field

A Comparison of Conventional and Expanded Physician Assistant Hospitalist Staffing Models at a Community Hospital



From Physicians Inpatient Care Specialists (MDICS), Hanover, MD (Dr. Capstack, Ms. Vollono), Versant Statistical Solutions, Raleigh, NC (Ms. Segujja), Anne Arundel Medical Center, Annapolis, MD (Dr. Moser [at the time of the study], Dr. Meisenberg), and Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD (Dr. Michtalik).


  • Objective: To determine whether a higher than conventional physician assistant (PA)–to-physician hospitalist staffing ratio can achieve similar clinical outcomes for inpatients at a community hospital.
  • Methods: Retrospective cohort study comparing 2 hospitalist groups at a 384-bed community hospital, one with a high PA-to-physician ratio model (“expanded PA”), with 3 physicians/3 PAs and the PAs rounding on 14 patients a day (35.73% of all visits), and the other with a low PA-to-physician ratio model (“conventional”), with 9 physicians/2 PAs and the PAs rounding on 9 patients a day (5.89% of all visits). For 16,964 adult patients discharged by the hospitalist groups with a medical principal APR-DRG code between January 2012 and June 2013, in-hospital mortality, cost of care, readmissions, length of stay (LOS) and consultant use were analyzed using logistic regression and adjusted for age, insurance status, severity of illness, and risk of mortality.
  • Results: No statistically significant differences were found between the 2 groups for in-hospital mortality (odds ratio [OR], 0.89 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 0.66–1.19]; P = 0.42), readmissions (OR, 0.95 [95% CI, 0.87–1.04]; P = 0.27), length of stay (effect size 0.99 days shorter LOS in expanded PA group, 95% CI, 0.97 to 1.01 days; P = 0.34) or consultant use (OR 1.00, 95% CI 0.94–1.07, P = 0.90). Cost of care was less in the expanded PA group (effect size 3.52% less; estimated cost $2644 vs $2724; 95% CI 2.66%–4.39%, P < 0.001).
  • Conclusion: An expanded PA hospitalist staffing model at a community hospital provided similar outcomes at a lower cost of care.

Hospitalist program staffing models must optimize efficiency while maintaining clinical outcomes in order to increase value and decrease costs [1]. The cost of hospitalist programs is burdensome, with nearly 94% of groups nationally requiring financial support beyond professional fees [2]. Nationally, for hospitalist groups serving adults, average institutional support is over $156,000 per physician full time equivalent (FTE) (182 twelve-hour clinical shifts per calendar year) [2]. Significant savings could be achieved if less costly physician assistants could be incorporated into clinical teams to provide similar care without sacrificing quality.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) have been successfully employed on academic hospitalist services to complement physician staffing [3–10]. They perform admissions, consults, rounding visits and discharges with physician collaboration as permitted by each group’s policies and in accordance with hospital by-laws and state regulations. A median of 0.25 NP and 0.28 PA FTEs per physician FTE are employed by hospitalist groups that incorporate them, though staffing ratios vary widely [2].

Physicians Inpatient Care Specialists (MDICS) devel-oped a staffing model that deploys PAs to see a large proportion of its patients collaboratively with physicians, and with a higher patient census per PA than has been previously reported [2–5]. The group leaders believed that this would yield similar outcomes for patients at a lower cost to the supporting institution than a conventional staffing model which used fewer PAs to render patient care. Prior inpatient studies have demonstrated comparable clinical outcomes when comparing hospitalist PAs and NPs to residents and fellows [4–10], but to our knowledge no data exist directly comparing hospitalist PAs to hospitalist physicians. This study goes beyond prior work by examining the community, non-teaching setting, and directly comparing outcomes from the expanded use of PAs to those of a hospitalist group staffed with a greater proportion of attending physicians at the same hospital during the same time.


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