What is a Hospitalist?

Although they are now common in many facilities, many patients are surprised when they discover they are under the care of a hospitalist

You’ve just been admitted to the hospital – which is stressful in and of itself. Then you find out that your regular doctor, the one that knows you best, will not be taking care of you during your stay. Instead, you will be in the care of a hospitalist – a doctor that works for the facility.
Hospitalists are becoming such a mainstay in healthcare that the first National Hospitalist Day was just celebrated on March 7, 2019 and will be celebrated on the first Thursday of March every year from now on. If you are admitted to the hospital and find yourself under the care of a hospitalist, you are part of one of the largest trends in healthcare.

What precisely are hospitalists? They are certified healthcare providers with specialties ranging from pediatrics to neurology. They take the place of your regular physician during your hospital treatment and make decisions concerning your care. So, if you find yourself under the care of a hospitalist, you are being looked after by a trained and certified healthcare provider that has chosen to work exclusively in the hospital.

Hospitalists are still a relatively new concept – they started to increase in popularity about a decade ago. The Society of Hospital Medicine estimates there were 44,000 practicing hospitalists in 2014 and according to US News and World Report, that number increased to more than 50,000 in 2018. Many believe their increase is due to a higher threshold for patient admission to the hospital – which means patients are sicker than in decades past. Healthcare providers that work in outpatient practices today don’t have the bandwidth to ensure the best possible care for complex cases and have chosen to use a hospitalist. Although it may feel like your regular healthcare provider has abandoned you, this is not the case! Your physician has a standing agreement with the facility to use a hospitalist for patients.

According to the United States Department of Labor, many hospitals employ three or four physicians for day shifts and one per night; larger hospitals may use more.

There are some compelling reasons why physicians use hospitalists:

  • The hospitalist works at the hospital, which means there is always someone there to coordinate your care. Before hospitalists, physicians would visit their patients once or twice daily to monitor your condition and make healthcare decisions. A hospitalist is capable of ordering tests and procedures as soon as you need them.

  • Hospitalists work in shifts so you have access to a healthcare professional that can examine you 24/7.

  • The hospitalist can organize the coordination of care after you leave the hospital. Because hospitalists work on-site, they are very knowledgeable about outpatient options and resources available for aftercare.

Here are a few best practices to know to ensure consistency in your care