The Specialist Advantage

The speed at which hospital medicine is growing is leaving many hospitalists in uncharted waters as they try to balance clinical practice and academic activities such as teaching, quality improvement, and research.

“Hospitalists often have great ideas but lack the resources to carry them out,” said Scott Flanders, MD, SHM president-elect, clinical associate professor of internal medicine, and director of the hospitalist program at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor.

Also, hospitalists do not always recognize the role of the subspecialist in diagnosing and treating complex patients—nor the advantages those specialists bring to designing and supporting clinical research. Given the nature of their education, specialists have a deeper understanding than hospitalists of the pathophysiologic concepts and scientific principles underlying important clinical questions, and are more likely to have had fellowship training that includes clinical research experience. They’re likely to be more adept at navigating outside bureaucracies to obtain grants for disease-based investigation.

All in all, specialist participation in hospital-based clinical research projects may improve project feasibility, increase the chances of obtaining money, and allow for wider dissemination of the results than if these projects had been undertaken by hospitalists alone.

“At large institutions, having hospitalists partner with clinical subspecialists could enhance patient enrollment and enhance funding opportunities, because subspecialists have a lot of credibility with funding agencies,” Dr. Flanders says.

Yet, clinical research programs performed by hospitalists and hospital medicine programs still are in an embryonic stage. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine, he and his colleagues describe a new program for accelerating clinical and translational research by having hospitalists team with subspecialist physicians and other healthcare professionals to ask and answer novel research questions.

Read this Research

Find this study (“The University of Michigan Specialist-Hospitalist Allied Research Program [SHARP]: Jumpstarting Hospital Medicine Research”) in the July-August Journal of Hospital Medicine.

SHARP Solution

In the Specialist-Hospitalist Allied Research Program (SHARP), an academic hospitalist and an academic cardiologist serve as principle and co-principle investigators, respectively. Together, they direct a team of supporting personnel, including a hospitalist investigator, clinical research nurse, research associate, and clinical epidemiologist.

The program began in 2006, with the goal of facilitating multicenter, intervention-based clinical trials. Other aims include enhancing patient participation and supporting pilot projects that would generate enough data to attract money for more in-depth studies. The program is paid for three years by the department of internal medicine with revenues generated for the hospital medicine division.

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