Wednesday November 28, 2012

Often, when I visit with a patient for the first time or tell people that I am a physician who works as a hospitalist, the response I get is, "What’s a hospitalist?"

As a hospitalist, I care for people who are in the hospital. My office is at the hospital and I do not have an office practice. At Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC), I work as part of a team of 11 hospitalists. We see patients in the emergency room who are being admitted and patients on the inpatient units of the hospital. A hospitalist is available in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At SVMC, the hospitalists are all physicians certified by the U.S. Board of Internal Medicine or the U.S. Board of Family Medicine. Internists and family medicine practitioners specialize in the diagnosis, management, and nonsurgical treatment of diseases and illnesses. Some of us have additional subspecialty training including pediatrics and nephrology.

Often, a hospital patient will wonder what the advantage is, being seen by a hospitalist. Many hospitals across the country employ hospitalists because of the benefits to their patients. For one thing, a member of the hospitalist team is always in the hospital and available for emergencies. Since our office is right in the hospital, patients and families can ask for us at anytime. It is very easy for the nursing staff to reach us with a question.

If a hospital patient needs a specialist such as an urologist or cardiologist, we can arrange the consult and speak with the specialist. We’re there to answer questions, follow-up on tests, and adjust a patient’s treatment as needed.

Where does your regular doctor fit in? We work very closely with a patient’s primary care provider. Because hospitalists are in the hospital all day, primary care providers can spend more time with other patients in their offices. This helps avoid delays and interruptions in their patient schedules. It also offers them peace of mind because they don’t have to worry about rushing to the hospital to see a patient.

We’re able to communicate with primary care providers for any information we need such as medication lists or a patient’s medical history. We have a tight-knit community in SVMC’s service area and all SVMC’s hospitalists have great working relationships with our local primary care providers. We connect with primary care doctors much in the same way that a specialist does when you see one for another opinion.

Some patients may still get a visit from their primary care physician, as many still like to visit their hospitalized patients during the day. Again, it provides primary care doctors with good peace of mind, as they know our hospitalist team is here to oversee their patients’ care overnight. Communication remains open no matter how often a patient’s regular doctor can visit in person.

When one of our patients leaves the hospital, we call the primary care doctor to let them know. We discuss further treatment needs, arrange follow-up care, and prescribe medications, if needed. We also make sure the primary care provider gets his patient’s hospital records. And we advise all our hospital patients to make an appointment to see their primary care doctor one or two days after leaving the hospital. Often SVMC’s case managers will help with making follow-up appointments.

As you can probably tell, life as a hospitalist involves medical expertise and lots of communication with patients, their families, and their health care providers. If you or a family member are ever in the hospital and are seen by hospitalists, know that they are there to ensure you receive the very the best in hospital medical care.

Dr. James Poole is medical director for the hospitalist program at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Physician services at SVMC are provided by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians. Visit SVMC’s Facebook page and learn more about the hospitalist program. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.