“The bigger question is, can our healthcare system, in five to 10 years, change itself enough that it uses every episode of care as an opportunity to do preventive care and coordinate care in the best way?” says Dr. Fisher, an SHM board member.
There is agreement that the field will continue to expand, with SHM predicting that the number of hospitalists in the U.S. will reach 40,000 in the next several years, up from today’s 30,000 figure.
Dr. Wellikson says that the figure could rise to as many as 70,000 or more if specialty hospitalists—such as surgical hospitalists, neuro-hospitalists, and laborists—are included. Those hospital-based specialties are now only in their infancy.
“Everything you can see shows that people are still flocking into hospital medicine,” Dr. Wellikson adds.
Hospitalists numbered in the hundreds just 15 years ago, so growth has been explosive the past decade. Dr. Cawley, however, says the pace of growth might be starting to slow already, shifting to undeveloped or underserved areas. “Hospitalist programs are at almost all the large [hospitals] and really the growth has been at the smaller hospitals in the last several years,” he says.
With the projected rise of Medicare beneficiaries due to the aging of the baby-boom generation, use of hospitals is expected to skyrocket, meaning more hospitalists will be needed, Dr. Bessler says. He also cites data from the National Rural Health Association noting that 25% of the U.S. population lives in areas considered rural, but that only 10% of the physicians live in those areas, indicating a potential growth area for hospitalists.
“That would tell me that demand will continue to outpace supply,” he says.
Mike Tarwater, a member of the board of the American Hospital Association and CEO of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., agrees with Dr. Bessler. Even with the move toward more outpatient care, Tarwater says, the aging of the population will mean a higher demand for hospitalists.
I think that the primary-care physicians—either because of their love for it or their belief that it’s the better way to go with the treatment of their patients—are going to be really stretched to keep that ambulatory practice going and to get to round on patients in the hospitals.
-Mike Tarwater, board member, American Hospital Association, CEO, Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, N.C.
“I think that the primary-care physicians—either because of their love for it or their belief that it’s the better way to go with the treatment of their patients—are going to be really stretched to keep that ambulatory practice going and to get to round on patients in the hospitals,” he says. “I think there’s going to be a continued growth of the trend that we’ve seen over the last 15 years.”
That growth also will mean a greater emphasis on technology use, whether it’s technology used for quick diagnostics like portable ultrasound or more widely used and refined electronic health records (EHR)—or, as Tarwater describes, “probably things we don’t imagine today.”
“Our doctors, more than any other doctors, are tech-savvy; they’re early adopters,” Dr. Wellikson says.
Hospitalists likely will emerge as leaders in the adoption of new technology, several experts predict.
Without a doubt, I think that hospitalists are going to be a driving force in the adaptation of the electronic [health] record to the clinical care within their hospitals,” Dr. Michota says.
As the needs of HM grow, and the field grows more complex, there will inevitably be more divisions and departments of hospital medicine in places where it is now only a section, Dr. Cawley says.