Hospital-Focused Practice

John Nelson, MD, MHM

As regular readers of The Hospitalist are aware, essentially every specialty in medicine is adopting the hospitalist model to some degree. After the “legacy” specialties of medicine and pediatrics, the model has more recently been embraced enthusiastically by neurologists, obstetricians, and general surgeons. But even fields like dermatology and ENT have put a hospitalist version of their specialties in place in at least a few places.

Did you know there is a Society for Dermatology Hospitalists? Did you know that the Neurohospitalist Society has its own journal? Did you know OB hospitalists have a really neat website, and the Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists is scheduled to have its first annual meeting in Boulder, Colo., Sept. 23-25?

It’ll make your head spin if you think about it too long. All of this raises a number of issues, including the need for more precise terminology to describe these fields and their practitioners.

The Need for Better Terminology

For example, now that we have neurohospitalists and psychiatric hospitalists, is it time to start attaching a modifier or prefix every time we use the word “hospitalist,” including when referring to “medical” hospitalists? I don’t think so. For the time being, I propose that when used alone, the word “hospitalist” still refers to a doctor who provides general medical care for adult inpatients. But I think any other use of the word does require a modifier, as in “peds hospitalist” or “GI hospitalist.”

(I think my view makes sense, but then, I’ve tried for years to ensure nocternist, with an E—NOCTernal intERNIST)—is the preferred spelling over nocternist, with a U. But Google returns nine hits for the former and 365,000 for the latter. Looks like I lost that one.)

Terminology for general and trauma surgeons is tricky. There is an emerging field of acute-care surgery, distinct from general surgery, which some argue passionately is nothing like a hospitalist model, and they tend to be offended if one uses the latter term. So, for now, we’ll need to use both “acute-care surgeon” and “surgical hospitalist” carefully. Although there are meaningful distinctions between acute-care surgery and a “standard” general surgery practice devoted to the hospital, there is an awful lot of overlap in the Venn diagrams of their expertise and what they do. But for now, it looks like we should expect both “acute-care surgeon” and “surgical hospitalist” to appear commonly, and the context will determine whether the terms could be used interchangeably.

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