“Hospitalist” is a word often spoken these days in the hallways of Hutchinson Regional Medical Center as a result of a joint effort between our hospital, the Hutchinson Clinic and Sound Physicians, a national hospitalist provider that serves more than 1,100 hospitals nationwide.
Understandably, the program has generated a significant number of questions and comments from patients and family members throughout the HRMC service area. Most ask what hospitalists are and why are they a necessary part of hospitalization?
A hospitalist is a physician whose practice is dedicated entirely to treating patients while they are in the hospital. This is the new norm nationwide. The nation’s first hospitalist program was established in the mid-1990s, approximately 15 years in advance of the program’s implementation at HRMC.
Local primary care physicians requested the program to allow more time for their in-office practice while allowing additional time for family and personal commitments.
Medical Editor William Shiel writes that most hospitalists are internal medicine physicians who have undergone the same rigorous training as other physicians including medical school, residency, training, and board certification examination. The only difference, according to Shiel, is that hospitalists have chosen not to practice traditional internal medicine. Some hospitalist physicians are medical subspecialists who opt to do hospitalist work such as intensive care unit physicians, lung doctors (pulmonologists) or kidney doctors (nephrologists).
A hospitalist and their team have more expertise in caring for complicated hospitalized patients. They are more readily available to meet with family members, can quickly follow up on tests results, answer nurse’s questions, and respond to changes in condition. It is not uncommon for hospitalists to have multiple consultations with patients and family members daily to provide updates.
The time required for nurses to contact the patient’s primary care physician during an emergency situation is virtually eliminated as the Hospitalist is on site to deal with crisis situations that arise. Throughout hospitalization, the Hospitalists may be in frequent communication with the patient’s physician to coordinate primary care transitions. All records dealing with the patient’s hospitalization are provided to their doctor following discharge from the hospital.
Hospitalists maintain their “office” in the hospital and make it a point to be involved in hospital committees and make recommendations on how to improve patient safety, reduce medical errors and improve ways to communicate between physicians and staff.
During the past year, HRMC has provided care for patients from the western regions of the state from towns including Tribune, Quinter, and Hoxie. In each of these situations, it was not feasible that the patient’s doctor to visit their patients during the hospitalization. It is not uncommon for the hospitalist to coordinate treatment options with the patient’s doctor hundreds of miles from Hutchinson.
Hospitalists are not hesitant to consult with specialists as necessary.
The hospitalist program at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center is now five years old and there is evidence that it is working to provide convenience, efficiency and added safety to treating our patients. National studies on hospitalists have shown decreases in hospital costs and in length of hospital stays with no decline in quality of care or patient satisfaction.
So, the next time you or someone you know is admitted to the hospital, and you are visited by a hospitalist or a member of their team, be assured that you will receive the highest quality of compassionate care.
By Ken Johnson, President and CEO of Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System