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Hospitalists Should Brace for Bitter Flu Season


 

A severe flu season will have hospitalists dealing with increased patient censuses and the struggle of keeping staffers healthy and available, according to two physicians.

The CDC recently announced that all but seven states are dealing with widespread flu activity. Two of the states not yet seriously affected, California and New York, are among the highest population centers, prodding many to speculate that the flu will worsen in those areas and the overall season will rank among the worst in recent memory.

As a result, hospitalists across the country should expect to see more patients admitted for flu, as well as potential boarding of sick patients as EDs deal with higher patient counts, according to Alice Pong, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

"[Hospitalists] deal with the increased number of actually otherwise healthy people who get flu, who then are sick enough to need to be in the hospital," Dr. Pong says, "and they get the chronically ill people with underlying disease who get the flu and get sicker."

Dr. Pong suggests tips to deal with flu season:

  • Have a surge plan in place to handle larger censuses. Similarly, have staffing plans to cover shifts when a doctor needs to stay home sick or take care of a sick family member;
  • Redouble focus on hygiene. Hand washing is even more important to prevent the spread of infectious disease within hospitals; and
  • Work with infectious disease professionals. Take their cues and seek them out with questions about flu prevention.

Team Hospitalist member James O'Callaghan, MD, FHM, says that having staff members or their families get sick can be a larger concern in smaller groups. Dr. O'Callaghan, a regional pediatric hospitalist at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Wash., and a medical hospitalist at Seattle Children's, says losing one staff member in a small hospitalist group can be troublesome.

"We're only a 4.0 [full-time equivalent] group, and there's only one of us working per day," he says. "I don't have anybody on standby that I can just, with the press of button, activate if somebody gets sick." TH

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