The public, physician, and media fascination with the H1N1 pandemic can serve as a healthy reminder this winter for hospitalists not to overlook seasonal influenza.
The attention focused on H1N1 influenza prompted the early release by the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA. 2010;303:doi10.1010/JAMA.2009.1911) of a study on the effectiveness of the virus’ vaccine. The attention also has prompted many hospitals to create processes for hospitalists and other staff to communicate with primary-care physicians (PCPs), community clinicians, and local health departments, according to Rick Hilger, MD, FHM, director of resident education of hospital medicine, and medical director of care management at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul, Minn. In particular, the attention on H1N1 has helped develop “open lines of communication” with infectious-disease doctors who often are the initial stop for influenza cases, Dr. Hilger says.
“When H1N1 was peaking this fall, we were getting probably biweekly e-mail updates as to what they were seeing in the community and them making recommendations,” says Dr. Hilger, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. “I think we were spoiled in that respect. I would highly recommend that all hospitalists try to speak with … their local infectious-disease doctors to see what’s out there this winter.”
Dr. Hilger suggests hospitalists use the focus on influenza this winter to redouble efforts to vaccinate at-risk populations and work with infectious-disease specialists when patients are admitted with clinical signs of infection. He adds that hospitalists, as front-line staffers at small and community hospitals, should be used to dealing with seasonal influenza.
“I don’t think that seasonal influenza will be a sleeper problem, in general,” Dr. Hilger says. “We all have a lot of experience with it. If anything, H1N1 will increase our awareness of it because we can’t go a day without influenza activity being talked about, whether it’s within our hospitalist group or whether it’s in administration.”