Five Things Caregivers Need to Know about Hospitalists

I have a confession to make: I am skeptical of jobs with new, strange titles. In our corporate world of buzzwords and the insatiable need to make the obvious a separate entity, we now have job titles that we never needed before.

For instance, Project Manager. Really? Haven’t workers in every discipline been managing projects for decades? Why do we need a title for this all of a sudden?

Or, Quality Assurance Specialist. No. Don’t tell me that quality wasn’t a concern for any reputable company before this obscure title was invented. Have we become so lax that the expectation of quality is no longer already embedded in every job description?

I share this rant with you to explain why it’s taken me so long to write about another strange job title: the hospitalist. Huh? It sounds like someone who knows all-things-hospitals but with no particular pragmatic function.

Yes, I was skeptical. But after learning more about this relatively new job title, I have now seen the light. Not only are hospitalists necessary in today’s health care environment; they are also important to caregivers. Here are five things caregivers need to know about hospitalists before a loved one is admitted to the hospital.

© National Cancer Institute
© National Cancer Institute

A hospitalist is a physician! Not only is it a physician – it is the physician in charge of your loved one’s care if he or she is hospitalized with a serious illness. By definition, hospitalists are specialists in the care of hospitalized, very sick patients. Just as physicians can specialize in internal medicine, geriatrics, neurology, and many other areas, they now can specialize in hospital medicine too.

The hospitalist works within the hospital. This is different from the days when primary care doctors in the community would make hospital visits to treat their patients. Sadly, in most neighborhoods, community doctors no longer have the time to make hospital visits or manage their patients’ care while they are in the hospital. This is one of the chief reasons that hospital medicine emerged as a specialty.

There are pros and cons to hospitalists. On the upside, hospitalists are often extremely knowledgeable about complex hospital care, know the internal workings of their hospitals, and are trained to make good decisions under stress and time constraints. They are also available 24 hours a day, as they usually rotate in shifts.

On the downside, because hospitalists work in shifts, if your loved one is hospitalized for an extended stay, he or she may be under the care of more than one hospitalist. This can affect continuity of care, so it’s important to make sure the new hospitalist is up to speed on your loved one’s progress. Also, because a hospitalist only works within the hospital, he or she may be somewhat insulated from outside community resources and, therefore, not very helpful when it comes to making discharge plans. Instead, seek the assistance of the hospital’s social worker to make sure a good discharge plan is in place that includes referrals to reputable community resources.

The hospitalist is part of a comprehensive care team. While the hospitalist is in charge of your family member’s care, many other professionals make up the care team that treats your loved one in the hospital. These professionals include physician assistants, nurses, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, chaplains, and aides. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of people flowing in and out of your family member’s room, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of people’s roles and responsibilities.

Communication between the hospitalist and the primary care physician is crucial. Even though your loved one’s primary care doctor in the community isn’t overseeing care in the hospital, he or she still needs to be kept up-to-date on your loved one’s progress, discharge plans, and any changes in medication or treatment. Many times, it’s up to the caregiver to make sure the hospital is sending appropriate records to the primary care physician and providing necessary information to ensure continuity of care. Don’t be shy about checking up on this or calling the primary care physician to relay information you think he or she needs to know.

I hope this sheds some light on who hospitalists are and why caregivers need to know about them. For more information, check out this great hospitalist guide by Next Step in Care.

If you’ve already had experiences with hospitalists, please share them here (hopefully, they were hospitable – imagine bad humor sound effect here). And if you haven’t met one yet, try not to let the goofy job title deter you from forging an alliance with a hospitalist when needed. It could make all the difference in the success of your loved one’s hospital stay.

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