What is a Hospitalist?

In 1996, the New England Journal of Medicine coined the term “hospitalist” to describe a new breed of physician, one that has emerged in response to an increasing need in patient care. While some doctors had worked primarily in hospitals since the 1970s or ’80s, the field took off as a popular medical specialty in the mid-1990s.

According to Matt Klein at St. Mary’s Hospital, he and other hospitalists are trained in internal medicine but for inpatient, or hospital-based, care. “Patients have come to expect and require more intensive care throughout their hospital stays,” he says.

Historically, Klein says general practitioners would check on their hospitalized patients each morning before heading to the office for scheduled appointments. But complexities in cases, advanced technology and an aging population have contributed to the need for doctors in hospitals around the clock.

Today, about fifteen-thousand hospitalists are in practice, about the same number as gastroenterologists or neurologists, according to the Society of Hospital Medicine. The organization expects the number to double by 2010. Roughly eighty-five percent of practicing hospitalists train in internal medicine before choosing full-time hospital work as a specialty.

The health-care field has largely embraced the emerging field, particularly because hospitalists have been shown to help control medical costs. These docs can order and process numerous tests and see patients repeatedly to adjust medications or offer education within the course of a single day, Klein says.

Furthermore, with several rounds a day, patient satisfaction is extremely high, says Dr. Geoff Priest, Meriter Hospital’s senior vice president of medical affairs. “Patients report getting to know the hospital-based physicians well, seeing them frequently during their short stays,” he says.

– Katie Vaughn

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