Hospitalists are commonly confused with internists. This may be because hospital medicine falls under the larger umbrella of internal medicine. In fact, the vast majority of hospitalists train as internists. The scope of training internists receive correlates with the duties of a hospitalist, but hospitalists and internists are not the same.
Internists practice in both hospitals and outpatient settings, while hospitalists do not. Another difference between these two professions is the duration of involvement with patients. Internists may work with their patients all throughout their adult lives. This means an internist can develop a long-term relationship with their patients.
On the other hand, hospitalists see patients for the duration of a hospital stay. If the patient has a chronic condition that requires multiple stays, the hospitalist may see them more frequently. But the overall scope of a hospitalist is to treat the conditions resulting in hospitalization, not ongoing patient management.
Medicine has always been your ultimate goal—and you’ve had your eye on the prize for quite some time now. You’ve been gearing up for medical school by a packing your schedule with advanced courses and meticulously staying on top of your extracurriculars, because you know it will all pay off one day.
But medicine is such a wide umbrella. There’s so many practice areas—which one will you land in? You want to choose a specialty that will offer you the challenges and work life you desire.
While exploring the different areas of medicine, one specialty caught your eye. But you need some clarification.
The reason is a relatively new trend in the care of hospitalized patients. Hospitalist is the term used for doctors who are specialized in the care of patients in the hospital. This movement was initiated about a decade ago and has evolved due to many factors. These factors include:
financial strains on primary care doctors,
cost-effectiveness for hospitals, and
need for more specialized and coordinated care for hospitalized patients.
Most hospitalists are board-certified internists (internal medicine physicians) who have undergone the same training as other internal medicine doctors including medical school, residency training, and board certification examination. The only difference is that hospitalists have chosen not to practice traditional internal medicine due to personal preferences. Some hospitalist physicians are family practice doctors or medical subspecialists who have opted to do hospitalist work such as, intensive care doctors, lung doctors (pulmonologists), or kidney doctors (nephrologists).
There are many advantages of hospitalists in the care hospitalized patients. One advantage is that hospitalists' have more expertise in caring for complicated hospitalized patients on a daily basis. They are also more available most of the day in the hospital to meet with family members, able to follow-up on tests, answer nurses' questions, and simply to deal with problems that may arise. In many instances, hospitalists' may see a patient more than once a day to assure that care is going according to plan, and to explain test findings to patients and family members.
Hospitalists also coordinate the care of patients' in hospital and are "captain of the ship." They are the physicians that organize the communication between different doctors caring for a patient, and serve as the point of contact for other doctors and nurses for questions, updates, and delineating a comprehensive plan of care. They are also the main physician for family members to contact for updates on a loved one.
Similarly, because hospitalists are in the hospital most of the time, they are able to track test results and order necessary follow-up tests promptly. This is in contrast to the traditional setting where your primary doctor may come to the hospital the next day to follow-up the results and take the next necessary step at that time.
The main disadvantage of having a hospitalist take care of you in the hospital is that, they may not know your detailed medical history as well as your primary doctor. Another problem is that your primary care doctor may not have access to the details of your hospitalization care (tests, procedures, results, medications, medical plan of action, etc.).