When Kenneth Patrick, MD, joined Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia in 1982, he was known simply as a physician who practiced HM. It wasn’t until 14 years later that the term “hospitalist” appeared for the first time in a New England Journal of Medicine article.
As Dr. Patrick’s job title changed, so did his outlook on the future of the profession. “My practice was exceedingly unique and, for many years, people didn’t understand that a physician could practice exclusively in a hospital,” says Dr. Patrick, now the ICU director at Chestnut Hill. “But when I first heard the word ‘hospitalist,’ I was surprised. I remember thinking, ‘Hey, I’m one of them.’ ”
He also knew that if other physicians were recognizing the specialty, more and more physicians were going to jump on the HM bandwagon. “I knew it wasn’t just a short-lived thing,” he says.
With three decades of HM experience in the bank, Dr. Patrick offers his take on the evolution of HM, changes to the delivery of care, and the importance of communicating with patients.
Question: What drew you into the medical field?
Answer: I earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering [from Drexel University]. The country was going through a recession and there weren’t many job offers, so when I was a junior, I decided to switch careers. I went into medicine.
Q: Have you found any similarities between engineering and HM?
A: Very much so, particularly in the intensive-care unit (ICU). That’s what drew me to critical care and HM. You have to be very detail-oriented. You have to go through your thinking process in a very organized fashion, and you have to be prepared to solve problems that aren’t apparent when you first start caring for a patient. That’s the basis of engineering.
—Kenneth Patrick, MD, Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia
Q: Did you face challenges in 1982 that new hospitalists won’t face today because the field is more established?
A: No, I would say it’s the other way around, particularly in terms of regulation and monitoring. The Joint Commission existed then, but the standards of hospital care, pressures from insurers, and things like length of stay were not so much of an issue. The challenge to get people evaluated and discharged exceedingly quickly did not exist back then.
Q: How has your role as a hospitalist changed in 26 years?
A: The most significant change is speed. I remember during residency caring for a patient with an infection of the heart valves. That patient stayed in the hospital for 28 days getting antibiotics, and I went to see the person every day to listen to the heart. … Today, that patient would be in the hospital two or, at most, three days. They’d be discharged either to home on IV antibiotics or to a skilled nursing facility. They’d no longer stay in the hospital for a prolonged period of time.
Q: How has that changed the delivery of care?
A: Our job as hospitalists is to see someone who is sick enough to be in the hospital, evaluate and diagnose them exceedingly quickly, get them started on treatment exceedingly quickly, and, as soon as they start improving, the regulators or insurers say they no longer need to be in the hospital. We don’t get to follow them through their entire illness.