Clarifying the Roles of Hospitalist and PCP


Editor’s note: “Everything We Say and Do” is an informational series developed by SHM’s Patient Experience Committee to provide readers with thoughtful and actionable communication tactics that have great potential to positively impact patients’ experience of care. Each article will focus on how the contributor applies one or more of the “key communication” tactics in practice to maintain provider accountability for “everything we say and do that affects our patients’ thoughts, feelings, and well-being.”

View a chart outlining key communication tactics

What I Say and Do

Amber Moore, MD, MPH

Amber Moore, MD, MPH

I explain my role as a hospitalist and my connection to the patient’s primary care physician (PCP) on first meeting the patient. I look for ways to reinforce this throughout the hospitalization.

Why I Do It

Even when I was hospitalized at my own institution, it was difficult for me to remember all of the providers involved in my care and their roles. My injuries and the large number of doctors caring for me interfered with my ability to absorb this information. I imagine that this is amplified for patients who have little or no experience with the medical system and are unfamiliar with the role that we play in their care.

During a recent initiative to improve the patient experience at my institution, we found it difficult to collect specific feedback on individual providers because many patients did not know their inpatient doctors’ names, frequently referencing their PCPs when asked for feedback on their care. This is common: A 2009 study showed that 75% of patients were unable to name the inpatient physician in charge of their care. Of those who could identify a name, only 40% correctly identified a member of their primary inpatient team, often identifying the PCP or a specialist instead.1

Clarifying our role on the care team, identifying ourselves as the point person for questions or concerns, and reinforcing our relationship with the PCP can help engender trust in the relationship, eliminate confusion, and improve the patient experience.

How I Do It

After introducing myself, I explain to patients that I will notify their PCP of the admission, and I state that I will be acting as the head of the inpatient team on behalf of their PCP. I often explain that most PCPs do not see their own patients in the hospital.

When multiple teams or house staff are involved in care, I clarify my role in relation to other team members. I look for opportunities throughout the hospitalization to reinforce this. For example, I tell patients when I have updated their PCP on significant events, and I clarify my role in simple terms, such as “quarterback,” when there are multiple subspecialists involved in care. I try to avoid terms like “attending,” which are often meaningless to patients.

In my hospitalist group, we help to reinforce our role and identity by providing a business card that includes a headshot. TH

Dr. Moore is a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. She is a member of SHM’s Patient Experience Committee.


  1. Arora V, Gangireddy S, Mehrotra A, Ginde R, Tormey M, Meltzer D. Ability of hospitalized patients to identify their in-hospital physicians. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(2):199-201.

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