How Laborists Are Changing Healthcare for OB-GYNs

Treating Women in Labor

Getty Images, Lane Oatey / Blue Jean Images

A laborist is an obstetrician-gynecologist who works full-time in a hospital or for a physician group exclusively to treat women in labor or to respond to obstetric emergencies.

Because laborists focus entirely on laboring patients in hospitals, they allow traditional obstetrician-gynecologists to focus on their office practices and office-based procedures. This arrangement is thought to allow for increased efficiencies in the care of patients in offices and hospitals.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that laborists almost function like “partners in absentia” for conventional OB-GYNs.

“While a health care provider finishes office hours, completes an operating room case, or gets a few more hours of sleep, the laborist can attend to the health care provider’s hospital patients, thus saving the primary health care provider multiple trips to the hospital,” ACOG notes.

The organization also states that successful laborist programs may benefit communities with obstetrician shortages. Laborists may give OB-GYNs more options, particularly those contemplating whether to relinquish practices that offer prenatal and delivery services alike.

Higher Pay for Laborists

Laborists are also known as obstetric-gynecologic hospitalists. Hospitalists devote their time to the “general medical care of hospitalized patients,” according to ACOG.

Obstetrician-gynecologists aren’t required to complete additional training to practice as laborists. The pay they receive, however, tends to be slightly higher than the pay conventional OB-GYNs receive. This especially proves true when one considers the amount of hours laborists work in proportion to their salaries.

Since laborists are an emerging trend in health care, extensive data on their compensation isn’t yet available, but anecdotal information points towards laborists earning the same or more than traditional obstetrician-gynecologists for fewer hours of work.

ACOG reports that private clinicians have expressed concerns about whether their incomes will be affected if a laborist delivers the babies of their patients.

“Delivery fees are often a major portion of compensation for pregnancy care, and as such, concern arises as to whether private attending physicians working with laborists can continue to bill for a global fee,” ACOG notes. “The hospital may bill for the laborists’ services, which helps partially offset the expense of having this service available. The economics of this equation—including delivery, consultation, and assistant fees—will require further evaluation in each setting considering use of a laborist.”

The Workweek of a Laborist

Pay isn’t the only area where laborists and conventional OB-GYNs differ. Because traditional OB-GYNs see patients in office settings and laborists do not, their workweeks and schedules contrast. Conventional OB-GYNs see patients in an office setting four to five days per week.

They also perform gynecological surgeries and procedures, including deliveries, in both the office and hospital setting. On the other hand, a laborist tends to work 12- to 24-hour shifts on a set schedule a few times per week.

The Growing Popularity of Laborists

The laborist trend continues to emerge in hospitals. With origins in the hospitalist movement of the 1990s, the laborist model is picking up steam in medical centers across the nation. Implemented successfully, the laborist concept may lighten the loads that traditional OB-GYNs carry.

Continue Reading