If you or a family member are hospitalized, it’s likely you will come in contact with a hospitalist – a board-certified physician who specializes in the care of hospitalized patients. “As patients have become more complex within the hospital, the medical hospitalist often acts as the leader of the patient care team, overseeing advanced medical management, care coordination, communication, and goals of care,” explains Sharen Anghel, MD, section chief of hospital medicine for Overlook Medical Center.
This does not mean that hospitalists are a replacement for a patient’s primary care doctor or specialists; rather, they are an extension of their care. From the moment you arrive to the moment you go home, the hospitalist communicates with the primary care physician about each patient’s care and progress. Paul Zukoff, MD, FACP, who practices internal medicine with New Providence Internal Medicine Associates, is a firm believer in the benefits that hospitalists provide to his patients.
“Patients’ acute and immediate problems are effectively treated while in the hospital by the hospitalist physicians,” he says. “Then, care is seamlessly transitioned to the primary care doctor’s office, where we can continue to manage chronic and ongoing problems. The key to this success is constant communication between our office and the hospitalists. The hospitalists have access to our care information and, once the patient is released, we receive a copy of the discharge summary to transition care back to our office. Our care coordinator immediately contacts the patient after discharge to update all medication changes and schedule an appointment to see us in the next several days. The seamless process from hospital to home mitigates potential errors and ensures continuity of care.”
Patients who are part of an Atlantic Medical Group primary care practice already have their records in the hospitalists’ hands through Epic, the electronic medical records system currently being adopted in Atlantic Health System’s hospitals and medical offices.
The goal of the hospitalist is to help patients return home healthy, and as quickly as possible. In addition to having the necessary expertise in managing complicated inpatient cases on a daily basis, hospitalists are able to coordinate all aspects of care throughout a hospital stay. And since the hospital itself is the hospitalist’s “office” (Overlook’s team of hospitalists works only within the hospital, not in off-site offices), they are available to patients around the clock. This makes them well suited to improving communication among team members, enhancing care transitions, increasing patient satisfaction and improving outcomes, explains Dr. Anghel.
Hospitalists tend to be more available for responding quickly to test results and answering questions. They are more accessible to patients and family members, and are on hand to assist patients and families in making medical decisions. Considering that a patient’s condition can fluctuate during the course of a day, the on-site availability of Overlook’s hospitalist team to monitor a patient’s status and swiftly address problems helps to remove any barriers to timely care.
Hospitalists work to reduce the length of a patient’s stay and oversee discharge from the hospital, which helps to facilitate an easier transition back to primary care, or to follow-up care outside the hospital, if necessary. Although the role of a hospitalist may be a new concept to many patients, their contributions to patient care are true assets.