An occasional reason hospitals are late to the hospitalist party is one or two (rarely more than that) of its private PCPs have simply chosen to work heroic amounts, and in addition to office and hospital care of their private patients, they accept referrals from other PCPs. I have met a number of doctors like this. Some are terrific doctors who actively participate in hospital initiatives; many appear chronically tired and harried, and hospital staff express frustration that they do things like make rounds at 3 a.m., take hours to respond to urgent calls, refuse to use protocols, etc. But because they’ve responded to the PCPs’ desire to be relieved of hospital work, other doctors may rally to their support and prevent the hospital from moving forward with a hospitalist program.
Will Every Hospital Have Hospitalists Eventually?
It is really interesting to think about whether every hospital, outside narrow specialty hospitals, will have hospitalists in the future. I wonder what informed people in the 1970s and early 1980s were predicting for emergency medicine’s future. At that point it probably wasn’t clear that, in the future, dedicated ED doctors essentially would staff every ED in the country, but I think that is exactly what has happened. (I once worked with an approximately 100-bed rural hospital that didn’t have ED physicians until 1999. I wonder if they were the last adopter.)
I think hospitalists are critically important for nearly all med-surg hospitals; however, maybe there will always be a small number that either have PCPs continue to practice in the traditional model, working both outpatient and inpatient, or some other effective configuration that makes hospitalists less necessary. We’ll have to wait and see. But I’m pretty confident
that almost no institutions that have hospitalists will ever return to the pre-hospitalist model of care. It seems there is no going back.
For those hospitals without hospitalists currently who will at some future time have hospitalists, the right time for this to happen is dependent on a combination of local factors. It could be something like the departure (i.e. relocation or retirement) of some of the current doctors, or simply the arrival of someone who has a vision and energy to successfully navigate the obstacles to build one. TH
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988 and is co-founder and past president of SHM. He is a principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants, a national hospitalist practice management consulting firm (www.nelsonflores.com). He is also course co-director and faculty for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. This column represents his views and is not intended to reflect an official position of SHM.</p>