Specialty Hospitalists May Be Coming to Your Hospital Soon


Nearly 20 years ago, Bob Wachter, MD, coined the term “hospitalist,” defining a new specialty caring for the hospitalized medical patient. Since that time, we’ve seen rapid growth in the numbers of physicians who identify themselves as hospitalists, dominated by training in internal medicine and, to a lesser extent, family practice and pediatrics.

But, what about other specialty hospitalists, trained in the medicine or surgical specialties? How much of a presence do they have in our institutions today and in which specialties? To help us better understand this, a new question in 2014 State of Hospital Medicine survey asked whether specialty hospitalists practice in your hospital or health system.

Much like our own field’s exponential growth, we are likely to see further expansion of specialty hospitalists over the next several years.

—Carolyn Sites, DO, FHM

Results show the top three specialty hospitalists to be critical care, at (35.4%), followed by general surgery/trauma (16.6%) and neurology (15.7%), based on the responses of survey participants representing hospital medicine groups (HMGs) that care for adults only. Other specialties included obstetrics (OB), psychiatry, GI, cardiology, and orthopedics (see Figure 1).

(Click for larger image) Figure 1.

(Click for larger image) Figure 1.

Perhaps not too surprising, the greatest number of specialty hospitalists are found in university and academic settings. These are our primary training centers, offering fellowship programs and further subspecialization programs. Much like in our own field of hospital medicine, some academic centers have created one-year fellowships for those interested in specific hospital specialty fields, such as OB hospitalist.

For reasons that are less clear, the survey also shows percentages are highest in the western U.S. and lowest in the East.

Critical care hospitalists, also known as intensivists, dominate the spectrum, being present in academic and nonacademic centers, regardless of the employment model of the medical hospitalists at those facilities. This is not unexpected, given the Leapfrog Group’s endorsement of ICU physician staffing with intensivists.

What’s driving the other specialty hospitalist fields? I suspect the reasons are similar to those of our own specialty. OB and neuro hospitalists at my health system cite the challenges of managing outpatient and inpatient practices, the higher inpatient acuity and focused skill set that are required, immediate availability demands, and work-life balance as key factors. Further drivers include external quality/safety governing agencies or groups, such as the Leapfrog example above, or The Joint Commission’s requirements for certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center with neurointensive care units.

Much like our own field’s exponential growth, we are likely to see further expansion of specialty hospitalists over the next several years. It will be interesting to watch how much and how fast this occurs, and what impact and influence these groups will bring to the care of the hospitalized patient. I’m already looking forward to next year’s SOHM report to see those results.

Dr. Sites is regional medical director of hospital medicine at Providence Health Systems in Oregon and a member of the SHM Practice Analysis Committee.

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