Timmermans is studying the growing role of physician assistants (PAs) in managing hospitalized patients in response to demands for better continuity of care. Although the PA concept is little more than a decade old in the Netherlands, there are 1,000 PAs, with about half filling a hospitalist role under the supervision of a medical specialist. Timmermans’ research looks at the effectiveness and quality of care with PAs under a mixed model of PA and physician, compared with physician alone.4
“The concept of a rural generalist is already well accepted in Australia, and hospital medicine is the next logical iteration of the medical generalist.” —Mary G.T. Webber, MBBS
In the Netherlands, the patient’s PCP does not assume medical management responsibility while the patient is hospitalized, although PCP visits might be made to reassure the patient and advise the hospital-based team. As in the U.S., the hospitalist will try to communicate with the primary care doctor at discharge and, if possible, schedule follow-up visits for the discharged patient at a clinic on the hospital campus.
A new experiment is underway in four Dutch hospitals. It’s a three-year medical education curriculum to train “hospital doctors” (ziekenhuisarts). The new medical specialty, with general medical training, will assume more responsibility for ward care in the hospital. Timmermans says it is not yet known how these professionals will relate to other professionals in the hospital.
Joseph Li, MD, SFHM, head of hospital medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and past president of SHM, notes a key distinction between hospitalists as they are commonly understood in the U.S. and house officers: House officers don’t assume medical responsibility for the patient’s care.
“A house officer is not a hospitalist as we understand it—but even in this country, terminology varies and means different things in different hospitals,” Dr. Li says.
The Acute Medical Unit
In the U.K., a different model has emerged over the past two decades. It is called the acute medical unit [PDF] (AMU) and is staffed by dedicated consultants.5 The AMU fits functionally between the hospital’s ED, or front door admissions, and specialty care units within the hospital.
Patients generally are admitted to the AMU for a maximum of 72 hours for medical work-ups, with consultations as needed by specialists. They should be seen twice a day by the acute medical consultant, who is responsible for the delivery and direction of their care. Then they either go home or get transferred to a specialty unit within the hospital, with specialty care organized in a manner broadly similar to the U.S.
This frontloading of medical attention at admission allows patients to be worked up and turned around quickly, says Derek Bell, MD, head of acute medicine at Imperial College London and a founder in 2000 of the U.K.’s Society for Acute Medicine. Dr. Bell suggests that this system developed to ensure a safe haven for medical patients who are unstable or require ongoing investigation and treatment. A national “four-hour rule,” designed to reduce overcrowding in EDs, means that patients need to either go home or be admitted within four hours of presentation to the hospital.
U.K. hospitals also employ a registrar, a senior trainee who supervises junior and resident doctors. Hospital physicians are salaried and employed by “provider organizations,” which can be a single hospital or a collection of hospitals.
“My hospital admits about 30 to 35 medical patients per day, and we have two consultants working during the day just doing acute medicine, along with two registrars, one for emergency patients, two intermediate grade doctors, and two junior residents,” Dr. Bell says.