How the Term Evolved
A term that first appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996, hospitalist was defined as a “specialist in inpatient medicine” caring for and treating patients in the hospital in the same way that primary care physicians are responsible for managing the care of outpatients in an office or clinic.
As sometimes happens with new terminology, the definition was based on a comparison with an existing term that people were familiar with. In 1999, hospitalists were still considered “Physicians who assume the care of hospitalized patients in place of the patients’ primary care provider.”
The term hospitalist was first included in the Eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2005, and by then the definition had become fairly restrictive: “A physician who specializes in treating hospitalized patients of other physicians in order to minimize the number of hospital visits by other physicians.”
Today the term has further evolved, and the Society of Hospitalist Medicine defines hospitalist as “a practitioner who is engaged in clinical care, teaching, research, and/or leadership in the field of hospital medicine. Practitioners of hospital medicine include physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.”
And hospitalist medicine is defined as “A medical specialty dedicated to the delivery of comprehensive medical care to hospitalized patients. Practitioners of hospital medicine include physicians (‘hospitalists’) and non-physician providers who engage in clinical care, teaching, research, or leadership in the field of general hospital medicine.”
The Hospitalist’s Qualifications
Most hospitalists are board-certified internists with the same education, training and certification as internists in private practice. Other hospitalists are family practice doctors and some are specialists. Some medical residency programs are now offering specialized hospitalist tracks to provide even more training on neurology, hospice and palliative care, consultative medicine and other aspects of patient care that are common for hospitalized patients.
The American Board of Hospital Medicine now offers a hospital medicine certification, founded in 2009. In addition, the American Board of Internal Medicine created a program in 2009 that provides general internists the opportunity to maintain Internal Medicine Certification with a Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine.
A physician who is focused on the care of hospitalized patients gains a lot of experience in dealing with the unique aspects of a hospitalized patient’s needs. By spending most or all of their work day in a hospital, they are also more available to patients than doctors who spend most of their time in an office or clinic. The convenience of being onsite also results in efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In addition, research shows that hospitalists reduce their patients’ length of stay.