What’s a hospitalist?

Find out about this unique physician and how they might make your hospital stay better

In healthcare systems around the country primary care doctors are pulling double duty, trying to find the balance between taking care of patients who have been admitted to the hospital and those in their regular practice. And with more than 35 million people being admitted and discharged from the hospital each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, these doctors are being stretched thinner than ever before.

Scott & White Healthcare has found a way to give primary care physicians their practices back without losing the specialized care patients have come to rely on. This is being done through the employment of hospitalists.

What is a hospitalist?

“In its basic form, a hospitalist is a doctor who just works in the hospital,” said hospitalist and Physician Director, Quality Improvement, Scott & White – Round Rock, Trina Evyan Dorrah, MD, MPH. “At our hospital, we are all internal medicine and family practice trained. We only work in the hospital and do not have clinics.”

When a patient is admitted to the hospital by their primary care physician, through the emergency department or by self-referral, a hospitalist will take care of them during their stay and until they are discharged.

“We are general medicine doctors. We can take care of a lot of [issues] ourselves, but when things begin to get a little more complex or the patient needs a procedure that we don’t do, then we call in whatever specialist is needed,” Dr. Dorrah said. “We’re kind of like the managers of the team.”

A specialist might only be thinking about his or her area of expertise. It is the job of the hospitalist to look at the big picture and coordinate the patient’s overall care.

How does a hospitalist benefit the healthcare team?

Freedom for physicians

“In the old days, the primary care physician would come in early in the morning, round on their patients who were in the hospital, and then during the day they were in clinic. Then, they’d have to come back in the evening and round again.”

One of the benefits of using a hospitalist to see patients strictly at the hospital gives primary care doctors the ability to focus solely on their practices and not have to spend a large portion of their day in the hospital.

Doctors available at a moment’s notice

“We pretty much physically have [a hospitalist] in the building 24 hours a day,” Dr. Dorrah said. “So, if something starts to go wrong with the patient, instead of the nurse having to call the primary care doctor who’s off somewhere stuck in clinic, the nurse can call us because we’re right there.”

And because the hospitalist is almost always a stone’s throw away, they physician doesn’t have to rely on the assessment of another person over the phone to relay important information about a patient.

How does a hospitalist benefit the patient?

Family satisfaction

“Families have someone who can help explain things to them and who is there more often,” she said.

For example, if a patient has undergone orthopedic surgery, the family wants to talk to the orthopedic surgeon. He may or may not be available to speak with them because he’s in the OR. But he will have already communicated with the hospitalist who can then speak to the family, tell them the plan for that day and address any questions they might have.

Transition from hospital to home

“We also work a lot on discharge planning,” the hospitalist said. “We believe we offer a lot of value in that crucial time period when you are well enough to leave the hospital, but still have a lot to do to get better during the transition. We work hard to make those transitions safer.”

What should patients know about hospitalists?

“Many times when we first introduce ourselves to the patient, they’re kind of concerned that they’re regular doctor isn’t going to come to see them,” Dr. Dorrah said. “But because Scott & White Healthcare has electronic medical records, we have the ability to look through their records, quickly get caught up to speed on their medical history and jump right in and care for them in that acute time.”

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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What’s a hospitalist?