A sweet family affair

December 22, 2011

What’s a hospitalist?

I’m often asked that question when I tell people my specialty.

In short, hospitalists are physicians specializing in the care of hospital patients. When your primary care physician can’t be at the hospital, we step in to help guide and coordinate your care.

When you are admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital, or any OhioHealth hospital, you are assigned a hospitalist who oversees your care until you are discharged. Grady’s five board-certified hospitalists are on staff and work as a team to provide around-the-clock care, seven days a week.

The hospitalist movement began a little more than a decade ago to manage the increasing complexities of inpatient care while freeing primary care physicians to spend more time treating patients in their offices.

Hospitalists are experts in the care of the hospitalized patient; we have a wide range of responsibilities and duties. The hospital is our office, where our intimate knowledge of operations improves communication between departments, ensures access to hospital resources and delivers services more efficiently – all of which enhance the quality and safety of patient care.

We organize the communication among the other physicians caring for you, help outline care plans, navigate hospital processes, answer questions from nurses and handle any problems that arise.

Because we are in the hospital, we are available throughout the day which enables us to personalize our patients’ care. Our availability throughout the day enables us to personalize care. We typically see patients at least once a day and meet with family members to answer questions, update conditions and explain tests or procedures.

Until the emergence of the hospitalists, patients had become accustomed to being followed inside and outside the hospital by their primary care physicians. But rapid advances in medicine have made it increasingly difficult for physicians to be skilled at both office-based and hospital-based practices.

With primary care physicians able to spend fewer hours at the hospital, hospitalists have stepped in to coordinate care. In addition to providing direct patient care, hospitalist activities often include teaching, research and leadership.

The number of hospitalists has grown from 1,000 in 1999 to nearly 30,000 today, due to excellent outcomes and improved efficiencies. Research indicates that the presence of hospitalists shortens hospital stays and may lower hospital mortality rates, while maintaining patient satisfaction and reducing costs.

Although the hospitalist takes the place of your primary care physician while you are in the hospital, we make sure your doctor knows that you have been admitted. We also keep your doctor apprised of any changes in your condition. But because the hospital is our primary site of practice, we are able to spend more time with patients and be with them at their most crucial times.

Thulasi Karakula, MD, is a hospitalist at the Grady Memorial Hospital.