What is a hospitalist?

A hospital visit can be a stressful time, filled with questions and concerns. In some cases, patients may not be familiar with some of the roles and responsibilities of the different health care providers who help them during their treatment. One of those roles – the hospitalist – is becoming more prevalent in current health care approaches. So, what is a hospitalist?

About Hospitalists

Hospitalists often have a difficult time explaining to patients what medical field they specialize in because it is a relatively new specialty. They are certified medical doctors with expertise in the acute care of adults and children, who have elected to work in one specific hospital, rather than outpatient primary care. They are the leaders of the health care team, ensuring all the different medical specialists involved in the care of a person work in harmony to treat each condition and provide the best quality care.

The Society of Hospital Medicine describes a hospitalist as a physician whose primary focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients, as well as teaching, research and leadership. These physicians and their advanced practice providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, focus on each individual patient’s minute-to-minute medical needs. They are constantly coordinating between different departments and specialists to ensure that all of a patient’s unique medical needs are being addressed.

Hospitalists typically have backgrounds in internal medicine, family medicine or pediatrics, and they serve as a primary point-of-contact for patients throughout a hospital stay.

Coordinating Patient Care

The role of hospitalists has grown as our health care system has evolved. Primary care physicians once had the flexibility to visit their patients who had been admitted to a hospital.

provider speaking to patient

The medical history and knowledge of that patient held by their primary care doctor was immensely beneficial in treating the hospitalized patient. However, starting in the 1990s, physicians with their own practices and larger numbers of patients found they could not devote the prolonged time needed to provide quality care to their hospitalized patients. This problem created a new field of medicine – hospitalists, which has quickly become the fastest growing field of study.

Because of advancements in what can be treated through primary care or outpatient procedures, patients admitted to hospitals today tend to have more complicated medical problems than in the past.

The United States now has more acutely ill patients with multiple medical conditions that require various specialists to treat them.

Hospitalists direct and coordinate a patient’s treatment between different hospital departments and help the patient navigate treatment. In the process, they are also primarily responsible for monitoring the patient’s overall care.

Without hospitalists, patients would be left on their own to work with the multitude of medical professionals involved in their treatment, who otherwise have little daily contact with one another. Having a hospitalist that thoroughly understands the inner workings of their hospital and can tend to each patient’s medical needs has become essential.

The next time you or a loved one are admitted for a hospital stay, talk to your medical care team about securing additional guidance during treatment from the facility’s hospitalist. Remember that they’re there to be your advocate, and to help coordinate the best possible treatment, leading to better health outcomes.


Author: Nina Lum, Chief Quality Officer and Hospitalist, CHI Saint Joseph Health