David Edwards, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.
Question: During a recent hospital stay, a physician called a “Hospitalist” took care of me, rather than my family doctor. What is a hospitalist?
Answer: Over the past several years, there has been a change in the practice of medicine. Office-based family practitioners, general practitioners and internists (physicians trained in internal medicine) are spending more time in the office, and less time caring for their patients when they are hospitalized. The inpatient care role is being filled by specialized physicians called hospitalists. A hospitalist takes a broader view of the care of a hospitalized patient, just as your family doctor would, but concentrates their work in the hospital rather than in the office. After a patient is released from the hospital, the hospitalist communicates with the family doctor so that he or she knows about the care the patient received in the hospital.
Though the term was first used in 1996, hospitalists have been around in smaller numbers before then. Hospitalists are usually trained in internal medicine, though some are trained in family practice, pediatrics or have subspecialty training. Their professional focus is caring for patients in the hospital. This focus can allow them to become more expert in hospital care and to be more available than physicians who work both in the office and the hospital. It is currently the fastest growing specialty. Though there is no formal certification at this time, there are training programs specially designed for physicians who plan to become hospitalists.
The Society for Hospital Medicine is a professional group that represents many hospitalists. Their web site gives more information about the technical definition of a hospitalist, the history of the hospitalist program and potential benefits of care provided by hospitalists. Their web site is: hospitalmedicine.org (click on “About SHM”).