While going to the hospital is rarely the goal, it might be inevitable at one point or another. With age, the risk of developing a chronic condition or acute injury that requires a hospital visit increases.
Hospitalists are doctors who work in hospitals — individuals who practice hospital medicine and provide hospital-based clinical care, and/or engage in teaching, research, leadership.
Here’s everything you need to know about these dedicated members of the medical field.
What Do Hospitalists Do?
A lot happens during a hospital stay, and that’s all possible thanks to the vast team that is working around the clock to care for you as well as all of the other patients within the hospital facility.
Hospital medicine practitioners are mainly concerned with managing the responsibilities for those with acute (i.e. short-term) injuries and illnesses. However, they are also constantly updating their procedures based on new evidence-based guidelines. This requires them to be adaptable and fluid in an ever-changing situation.
Hospitalists provide optimal care by:
- Providing diagnoses, treatment, and medical procedures to patients within their primary professional focus.
- Facilitating care coordination with all physicians and healthcare personnel that are caring for their individual patients.
- Support safe post-acute care practices to allow your loved one to engage in society and return home in a safe, effective, and comfortable manner.
- Update practices and techniques based on new advancements in technology, as well as based on new guidelines and regulations.
- Practicing efficient and proper use of healthcare resources, including abiding by HIPAA and other privacy guidelines.
Hospitalists lead a hospital team, coordinating care for inpatients. They may order x-rays, examine test results, order treatments, run tests and lab work, prescribe medication, run diagnostic tests, and really do anything to meet their patients’ needs.
Essentially, they’re like a jack of all trades in hospital systems, and need to show flexibility.
Hospitalists vs. Internists
The term hospitalist is fairly new, having only been coined in 1996. For that reason, it is often used interchangeably with a similar, yet different, term: internist. Internists are people who are specialists in internal medicine, meaning they deal with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of internal diseases such as asthma, infections, pneumonia, diabetes, hypertension, etc.
The major difference is that internal medicine physicians practice medicine in both a hospital setting, as well as in outpatient settings. Hospitalists, on the other hand, work only in a hospital setting, hence the name.
Additionally, the duration of involvement with patients between these two professions differs drastically. Internists might work with the same patient for the entirety of their career. In this sense, they typically develop more long-term relationships and become familiar with their patients.
Now, this doesn’t mean that hospitalists don’t care about their patients. While they’ll only provide services throughout the length of a hospital stay, they will do their best work to ensure long-lasting success. Not to mention, they will coordinate post-acute care to ensure that individuals continue to see improvement even after the treatment period ends.
What Training Do Hospitalists Have?
Hospitalists need extensive training and experience in order to work in the hospital setting with admitted patients — this is all the same training as your primary care physician or your OB/GYN, and the difference primarily lies in where they practice.
Firstly, they’ll need a Bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, followed by a medical degree, for which they’ll also need to pass the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), followed by actually obtaining medical licensure.
After that, hospitalists need to complete a three to four-year residency training program in the hospital setting. Many hospitalists train for board certification in their medical specialty, too.
Hospitalists may choose a number of different paths after medical school, so this is the time when they’ll also choose their new specialty based on their preferences. Just because a person is a hospitalist does not necessarily mean they can accomplish all tasks within a given facility.
As you can see, it’s a lot of work to become a doctor in a hospital! For that reason, you and your loved one can have some comfort knowing that you’ll be receiving quality general medical care from educated and passionate primary physicians. Hospitalists are prepared to work long, 12-hour shifts to address a patient’s needs.
What Are the Different Types of Hospitalists?
The term hospitalist is a bit of a general term that can serve as an umbrella for a number of subcategories within the hospital setting.
Hospitalists may choose to specialize in the field of geriatrics, which is focused on providing care for older adults.
Neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia can make it difficult for some older adults to receive proper care from primary care physicians, or even classically trained hospitalists. This is because they lack the understanding that geriatric specialists have regarding the unique needs associated with aging.
They are able to overcome the cognitive and language barriers that may be preventing individuals from obtaining accurate diagnosis and treatment of their condition. They can bring attention to co-occurring conditions that might be bothering someone, while also addressing the acute concern that brought them to the hospital in the first place.
While geriatric hospitalists focus on older individuals, pediatric hospitalists specialize in addressing, diagnosing, and treating children, infants, teens, and really anyone under the age of 18 (21 for some practices).
Pediatric hospitalists work with children in the pediatric ward, as well as the labor and delivery units. They are able to provide an extra layer of empathy, care, and expertise for children that those without a pediatric or family medicine focus may not be able to match.
Hospitalists who choose to specialize in internal medicine tend to have a more broad knowledge of medicine, allowing them to work efficiently in addressing conditions and concerns across a wide range of populations.
While internists only work with adults, their intensive training gives them the ability to provide a number of treatments and diagnostic tools.
Not all hospitalists need to actually be actively participating in medical procedures and diagnoses. In fact, none of those protocols would exist if it weren’t for devoted teams of research hospitalists who work behind the scenes to continually help doctors deliver the best quality care.
Research hospitalists measure, refine, and improve care coordination between primary care and hospital care. They may also examine hospital metrics to see which areas might require improvement compared to sectors that seem to be excelling.
Research hospitalists also have the challenging, yet rewarding, task of developing and testing new technology to improve the safety and quality of care for hospitalized patients.
Not to mention, research hospitalists may participate in research to understand the efficacy and safety of novel drugs and treatment methods that surgeons and other medical professionals might start to deploy.
While the first goal of a hospital is to provide quality care for patients, hospitals are also a business. With that in mind, there are non-clinical leadership positions that are a part of the overall hospitalist umbrella.
Hospital executives make decisions that impact providers, patients, as well as overall hospital policy. They can help solve complex care issues and transform the industry in order to meet a set of certain standards.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to roll ahead, hospital executives are at the forefront of mitigation measures to help keep staff and patients as safe as possible. This is especially important for elderly loved ones who are most susceptible to the virus.
When Is It Necessary To See a Hospitalist?
While any injury or illness can be scary, especially if it’s affecting your loved one, not every condition warrants a trip to the hospital. With that said, there are some circumstances when it might be wise to go to the hospital rather than a primary care physician.
Instances when someone should be taken to the emergency room include:
- Broken bones
- Deep cuts or wounds
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Vision loss
- Weakness or slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe allergic reactions
- Extreme confusion or altered mental state
If the condition is uncomfortable but not life-threatening, a primary care physician can usually be visited instead, and the PCP may be able to diagnose and treat the issue without the need for an emergency room visit.
Not only can this save a lot of time and money, but it can also save a lot of stress for everyone.
With that said, a primary care doctor may refer you to the hospital if the condition warrants so. From there, hospitalists will take over care and administer the proper course of treatment to get people on their feet as fast (and safely) as possible.
Hospitalists are an umbrella term that refers to any individual who works in a hospital setting.
Here are the takeaways of what you need to know about them:
- While this is a relatively new term that refers to physicians within a hospital, such as a doctor who treats you in the emergency room, but it can also refer to research physicians or physicians in leadership roles (like the Chief of Medicine).
- Hospitalists will often provide care from the moment you or your loved one enter the hospital right up until you leave. They’ll coordinate care with other members of the hospital staff to ensure your needs are covered.
- There are a number of specialties under the hospitalist umbrella, and one that is most applicable to your senior loved one is geriatrics. Geriatric hospitalists are equipped to address, diagnose, and treat the unique conditions posed by aging.
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What Is a Hospitalist? | Society of Hospital Medicine
What Is a Hospitalist? | The Hospitalist
Experts in the Elderly | The Hospitalist
Johns Hopkins Hospitalist Research Fellowship | Johns Hopkins Medicine