Hospitalists are doctors who work only in hospitals and specialize in caring for patients in emergency departments and hospitals. An increasing number of hospitals use these doctors, which may result in less contact with patients’ primary-care physicians and greater potential for mistakes, errors and medical malpractice.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the hospitalist practice first began in 1995. In 2006, 84 percent of teaching hospitals and almost 50 percent of all hospitals in the U.S. had at least three hospitalists. All hospitalists have completed medical school, residency and board-certification examination, and most are board-certified internal medicine physicians.
Hospitalists are used for several reasons, including:
- Specialized emergency room and hospital care
Despite the advantages of using hospitalists, this increasing trend may create problems that negatively impact patient care and health outcomes. People with multiple chronic conditions often are treated in hospitals because of the potential health complications they may experience and because of the resources available there. Therefore, hospitalists have many patients that require complex medical care, have complicated health histories, and take multiple medications, all of which creates greater opportunity for mistakes.
One of main disadvantages of using hospitalists is that they do not know patients’ medical histories as well as patients’ primary-care physicians, which can lead to delays in treatment, miscommunication between doctors and patients and possibly misdiagnoses. In addition, patients’ primary-care physicians might not have access to detailed information about their hospital care and treatment plans.
Information about a patient’s medical care should be transferred from doctor to doctor during the hand off from the hospitalist to the primary-care physician at discharge. However, a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change conducted for the nonpartisan policy research group National Institute of Health Care Reform found poor communication between hospitalists and primary-care physicians. Among other problems, inadequate communication between doctors may result in duplicated tests and incorrect treatments.
To avoid negative outcomes with hospitalists, patients should actively participate in their medical care by asking questions and communicating their needs to health-care providers. If you have suffered harm from a medical error in the hospital, though, promptly contact a medical malpractice lawyer to discuss any legal claims you may have.