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Bright Lights, Big City


It wasn’t that long ago that SHM was pretty excited to see that the word “hospitalist” had been added to the dictionary, but to have hospitalists mentioned on Oprah Winfrey’s television show, on The Today Show, and in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) all in the same week is a watershed moment. It’s further recognition that HM is part of the fabric of this country and an established specialty in America’s healthcare system.

It all started in March, when SHM President Pat Cawley, MD, was quoted in O, The Oprah Magazine, which has a circulation of more than 2 million. Later that month, Oprah had Dennis Quaid on her show to discuss the overdose of anticoagulant his newborn twins were given at a Los Angeles hospital. The conversation quickly turned to patient safety and performance expectations for hospitalized patients. Dr. Mehmet Oz, the resident medical guru for Oprah’s show, created a list of eight essential steps for hospitalized patients to take in order to have the best and safest hospital experience. No. 7 on this list was “Get to know your hospitalist.” It’s the kind of exposure that drives 10,000 to 20,000 people to go online and discover hospitalists.

That same week, The Today Show featured Geno Merli, MD, chief medical officer at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, an SHM member, and our representative to the Coalition to Prevent DVT ( Dr. Merli discussed deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) prevention, as well as efforts to engage patients and their physicians in this effort. SHM has assumed a leadership role in this 60-group coalition, which is providing DVT awareness to millions of people.

And to top off a banner week, NEJM ran a story and editorial about the rapid growth of HM, based on a study analyzing Medicare data from 1997 to 2006. In “Growth in the Care of Older Patients by Hospitalists in the United States,” by Kuo et al, the main finding was the very rapid growth of HM. The editorial authors noted “the odds that a Medicare patient would be cared for by a hospitalist grew by 29% per year from 1997 through 2006.”

Hundreds of media outlets seized the opportunity to tout the growth of HM and our role in patient safety and performance improvement.

The cherry on the sundae was when other media outlets followed up on the Oprah story, and even more jumped on the NEJM article. Hundreds of media outlets seized the opportunity to tout the growth of HM and our role in patient safety and performance improvement. The reach of these messages, through a national consumer audience and through a prestigious medical journal, should not be underestimated. SHM couldn’t buy that kind of message and deliver it to our patients and their families.

No Slowing Down

It was interesting that I was at SHM’s Leadership Academy in Hawaii when all the stories broke, which made it seem more tangible and brought it home on a personal level as a hospitalist. Just being around 120 current and future HM leaders made me realize that we have the manpower (and womanpower) to continue to create the needed change for our health system.

Hospitalist leaders took a week off from their overwhelming, day-to-day responsibilities to learn how to be more effective leaders. This is the ninth time SHM has brought together more than 100 hospitalist leaders, and every time, we find bright, young—and some not-so-young—hospitalists who thirst for direction to manage their group of hospitalists, to create a team of health professionals, to reshape and fix the hospitals they work in, to move from volume to value, and to do all of the hundreds of other things hospitalist leaders get handed to them every day.

The energy in our specialty will also be felt at HM09. Despite the recession and the recent falloff in attendance at many medical meetings, SHM’s annual meeting—the largest gathering in HM, which will occur in Chicago this month—is having its best registration ever. More than 2,000 stakeholders will come together to network, train to be a better hospitalist, and learn how to effect real change at their hospitals.

As President Obama has mentioned time and again, there are plenty of companies and organizations that continue to produce the products and services that Americans want and need, and even though we are in tough times, those organizations will prevail. Hospitalists clearly are in demand. Even in tough economic times, hospitals, medical staffs, and our patients continue to look to us for answers.

HM is growing exponentially, even when many still know little about hospitalists and what we do. With voices like Oprah, Today, and NEJM highlighting our good work, more light will be shed on our specialty. And I believe we are ready for the scrutiny and the recognition.

Hospitalists earn their keep by taking over a greater share of the management of the acutely ill patient, in working with our primary-care physician, subspecialty, and surgical colleagues, and by being strong team members with our allied health professionals. In many ways, HM remains a work in progress. Although we have accomplished much in a little more than a decade, our best days are still ahead of us.

Just turn on the TV or open a magazine to hear all about it. TH

Dr. Wellikson is CEO of SHM.

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