What is a Hospitalist?

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November 6, 2013


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A hospitalist is essentially a primary care physician for patients admitted to the hospital. Hospitalists monitor and tend to their patients’ daily medical needs.

The role of the hospitalist is a relatively new concept that is barely a generation old. The term itself emerged in the late 1990s. And with the new century, the hospitalist has become a more familiar part of treatment and recovery for inpatients and their family members.

Studies have found that hospitalists help reduce patient lengths of stay, the costs of treatments, and improve overall efficiency of care, according to the Society of Hospital Medicine.

Most hospitalists are Board-certified internists (internal medicine physicians). They go through the same training as other internal medicine physicians — medical school, residency training, and Board- certification examination.

The primary difference between hospitalists and other internists (or primary care physicians) is that hospitalists are drawn to the experience of the daily vigilance of inpatients and peripheral responsibilities, including overseeing medication, diagnostic procedures, communication with nurses and specialist physicians, and updating family members of the patient.

Without a doubt, the hospitalist needs to be a good communicator, said Andres F. Soto, M.D., medical director of the Hospitalist Medicine Program at West Kendall Baptist Hospital. Soto oversees 13 hospitalists.

“We are in a privileged position,” Dr. Soto said. “We coordinate the care of patients in the hospital, keeping an open line of communication with specialists and the patients’ families.”

Hospitalists increase the efficiency and effectiveness of treatment, acting as an extension of the patient’s primary care physician.

With elderly patients or those with more than one chronic condition, coordinating care through primary care physicians  and specialists becomes even more significant.

“The PCPs (primary care physicians) know about the ongoing medications and previous test results, so   communication between hospitalist and PCP is very important,” Dr. Soto said. “As hospitalists, we  focus on treating the issues  that brought the patient to the hospital, coordinate follow-up care for when  they are ready to be discharged and prevent  readmissions.”

There is also the vital component of keeping family members informed and at ease about the care provided their loved one.

“Hospitalization can be a very stressful time for the families,” he said. “We try to help diminish the anxieties by keeping them well informed.”

Oftentimes, the patient is an elderly parent with sons or daughters who may reside in another city, Dr. Soto said. With the patient’s permission, the hospitalist keeps a line of communication open with out-of-town relatives.

The Baptist Health Medical Group currently employs 65 hospitalists system-wide, and the number is growing.

The movement nationwide toward hospitalists that emerged about 15 years ago  evolved out of several factors, including the need for more efficient monitoring of hospital patients, cost-effectiveness for hospitals and the general need for better care coordination. Addressing these factors also promotes improved patient safety.

In 1996, Dr. Bob Wachter coined the term “hospitalist” in the New England Journal of Medicine. The National Association of Inpatient Physicians (NAIP) was then founded. The organization’s name was changed to the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) in 2003.

On its website, the SHM states that the number of hospitalists nationwide has surged from a few hundred a decade ago to more than 30,000 currently practicing. SHM projects that number to grown past 40,000 over the next five years.

“We basically need more hospitalists,” Dr. Soto said. “We are part of a quality-driven initiative to continue to improve patient care.”

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