What Is a Hospitalist?

Medical Author: Siamak Nabili, MD, MPH
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

If you have or someone you know has recently been admitted to a hospital, chances are that they were not seen by their primary care physician in the hospital. As a result, many patients ask questions such as:

  • Where is my doctor?
  • Why isn't my doctor here to oversee my healthcare while I'm in the hospital?
  • How does my primary care physician know that I am in the hospital?
  • Is my own doctor going to be updated about my care?

So, why isn't your primary care physician overseeing your care while hospitalized?

The reason is a relatively new trend in the care of hospitalized patients. Hospitalist is the term used for doctors who are specialized in the care of patients in the hospital. This movement was initiated about a decade ago and has evolved due to many factors. These factors include:

  • convenience,
  • efficiency,
  • financial strains on primary care doctors,
  • patient safety,
  • cost-effectiveness for hospitals, and
  • need for more specialized and coordinated care for hospitalized patients.

Most hospitalists are board-certified internists (internal medicine physicians) who have undergone the same training as other internal medicine doctors including medical school, residency training, and board certification examination. The only difference is that hospitalists have chosen not to practice traditional internal medicine due to personal preferences. Some hospitalist physicians are family practice doctors or medical subspecialists who have opted to do hospitalist work such as, intensive care doctors, lung doctors (pulmonologists), or kidney doctors (nephrologists).

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