What are hospitalists?

Being in the hospital is a frightening and strange experience for patients and their families. In the traditional system, the patient's family doctor took time from his or her outpatient practice in the early morning or late evening to briefly visit the hospital and check on patients. Todays hospital patients often need to be seen more than once per day. The hospitalized patients need more intensive care than once daily visits provide. Waiting for the arrival of the primary care physician to evaluate the patient, order and interpret tests and procedures, and communicate with the family, is inefficient and unnecessarily prolongs the hospital stay.

Today's hospitalist physicians are specialists in the care of the hospitalized patient. They are available in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to attend to the changing needs of the patient. The availability of the hospitalist physician dramatically improves the communication with the patient and the family, and expedites the patient's care throughout their stay. Hospitalist's communication procedures ensure that the primary care physician is informed of significant developments in the patient's care as they occur, and that he or she receives typed discharge notes shortly after the patient leaves the hospital. When patients return home, the hospitalists phones to make sure they have an appointment with their family doctor, their medications, and any equipment they need to continue their recovery.

Hospitalists are physicians who care for the general medical needs of hospitalized patients. These physicians usually do not have an office outside of the hospital. They do not see patients except those in the hospital.

Most hospitalists are associated with one hospital. The hospitalist group stays at the hospital 24 hours per day. If the patient has a problem in the middle of the night, someone in the hospitalist group will see the patient right away. If a patient needs to be admitted in the middle of the night or day, the hospitalist will see the patient right away.

In the last two years, approximately 85% of family practice and primary care physicians nationwide, no longer see their own hospital patients. Most physicians who have been practicing in large physician groups have not seen their own patients in the hospital for years. In a practice of eight physicians, the patient has a one-in-eight chance of seeing their own physician during the hospitalization. Therefore currently, hospitalists are simply considered an extension of the existing private physician group practice.

For patients and their families, the hospitalist model often delivers more efficient care, better communication, and better continuity.