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Are you seeing more patients per shift?

Keywords: Daily patient loads rise for many hospitalist physicians

Published in the July 2009 issue of Today's Hospitalist

What’s the ideal number of patients to see per shift? The answer to that question, which has been on the minds of hospitalists since the specialty emerged, still appears to be in flux.

Last year, results from the first Today’s Hospitalist Compensation & Career Survey found that hospitalists were seeing just over 15 patients per shift. That number is an average, meaning that a significant number of hospitalists—about 40%—reported seeing more. But the results seemed to confirm anecdotal reports from veteran hospitalists and industry observers, who claimed that many practices were trying to keep daily loads at about 15 to improve quality and reduce physician turnover.

But that survey was conducted just before the economic crisis hit, and more recent data have muddied the waters when it comes to average patient census. In a Today’s Hospitalist survey conducted earlier this year, for example, the average patient load for hospitalists came in at 19.5, a significant increase over findings from a year ago. In addition, three-quarters of those hospitalists said that their daily census had risen by about 22% within the previous several years. Is something happening to patient loads for hospitalists? It’s possible that this discrepancy is nothing more than a statistical fluke. But it may also be that hard times have hospitalists working harder and seeing more patients.

Our story gives details about patient loads at individual groups, but that still leaves us looking for trends in the specialty as a whole. The good news is that we’ll soon have more information from the second annual Today’s Hospitalist Compensation & Career Survey. (You can participate in the survey through mid-July by going online to We’ll report back those results this fall. I’ll be interested to see what those findings say about how much harder you may now be working.

Edward Doyle
Editor and Publisher

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