Dr. Gandhi, who was finishing her second year of residency at Duke Medical Center in Raleigh, N.C., when the NEJM paper was published, sees the acuity of patients getting worse in the coming years as America rapidly ages. Baby boomers will start turning 80 in the next decade, and longer life spans translate to increasing medical problems that will often require hospitalization.
And while hospitalists have already moved into post-acute-care settings, Dr. Bessler says that will become an even bigger focus in the next 20 years of the specialty.
“It’s not generally been the psyche of the hospitalist in the past to feel accountable beyond the walls of the hospital,” he says. “But between episodic care [and] bundled payments … you can’t just wash your hands of it. You have to understand your next site-of-care decision. You need to make sure care happens at the right location.”
At a time of once-in-a-generation reform to healthcare in this country, the leaders of HM can’t afford to rest on their laurels, says Dr. Goldman. Three years ago, he wrote a paper for the Journal of Hospital Medicine titled “An Intellectual Agenda for Hospitalists.” In short, Dr. Goldman would like to see hospitalists move more into advancing science themselves rather than implementing the scientific discoveries of others. He cautions anyone against taking that as criticism of the field.
“If hospitalists are going to be the people who implement what other people have found, they run the risk of being the ones who make sure everybody gets perioperative beta-blockers even if they don’t really work,” he says. “If you want to take it to the illogical extreme, you could have people who were experts in how most efficiently to do bloodletting.
“The future for hospitalists, if they’re going to get to the next level—I think they can and will—is that they have to be in the discovery zone as well as the implementation zone.”
Dr. Wachter says it’s about staying ahead of the curve. For 20 years, the field has been on the cutting edge of how hospitals treat patients. To grow even more, it will be crucial to keep that focus.
Hospitalists need to continue to take C-suite positions at hospitals and policy roles at think tanks and governmental agencies. They need to continue to master technology, clinical care, and the ever-growing importance of where those two intersect.
Most of all, the field can’t get lazy. Otherwise, the “better mousetrap” of HM might one day be replaced by the next group of physicians willing to work harder to implement their great idea.
“If we continue to be the vanguard of innovation, the vanguard of making the system work better than it ever has before,” Dr. Wachter says, “the field that creates new models of care, that integrates technology in new ways, and that has this can-do attitude and optimism, then the sky is the limit.” TH
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.
- Diamond HS, Goldberg E, Janosky JE. The effect of full-time faculty hospitalists on the efficiency of care at a community teaching hospital. Ann Intern Med. 1998;129(3):197-203.