Patients admitted to the hospital have many concerns. Paramount among them is, “Will my primary care doctor take care of me while I am in the hospital?” If not, who will? The answer is that when you are admitted to the hospital you will be under the care of a hospitalist—not your primary care doctor. Let’s find out who these special physicians are and exactly what they do.
Who: A hospitalist is a doctor who only works in the hospital. A hospitalist has training in a medical specialty, for example, internal medicine, family practice, or pediatrics.
When: Hospitalists coordinate patient care in the hospital. In the same way surgeons and obstetricians are the experts on operations and babies, hospitalists are the experts on medical issues within the hospital setting.
What: Among many other duties, a hospitalist talks to specialists, orders tests, admits and discharges patients, and works with a myriad of healthcare workers, including but not limited to nurses, social workers and pharmacists. The primary role of the hospitalist is to provide the best evidence-based care while simultaneously acting as the patient advocate and guiding families through the intricate web of healthcare.
Why: The need for in-patient physicians—hospitalists—arose as changes in medicine made it increasingly difficult for primary care doctors to take time out of their hectic schedules to travel to the hospital and care for their patients. Additionally, hospital care is more complex, thereby creating the need for a physician dedicated to the care of “inpatients.” Studies have shown that hospitalists provide timely, high quality care. To be sure, in a perfect world your personal doctor would follow you wherever you go, irrespective of location—hospital or community. However, it’s just not possible, given the complexities of medical treatments. There must be an on-site physician to make the right decisions at the right time—which is whenever you enter the hospital, night or day.
Your primary care physician (PCP) may not be aware that you are in the hospital. Oftentimes it becomes impossible for the hospital to alert the PCP when patients are admitted. When you see your PCP at the post-hospital appointment, let your doctor know you were hospitalized and if possible request a copy of hospital medical records prior to your office visit.
Hopefully, you won’t ever experience first-hand what a hospitalist does. However, if you do, you’ll already know a lot about this burgeoning field of medicine. Be well.
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she speaks at many community forums and delivers health awareness presentations. Dr. Morris is active in social networking and has made guest appearances on the Weather Channel’s Weekend View and Atlanta’s Fox 5 News. Tell her what you think on Facebook.