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Hospital medicine in the United States is the discipline concerned with the medical care of acutely ill hospitalized patients. Physicians whose primary professional focus is hospital medicine are called hospitalists; this type of medical practice has extended beyond the US into Canada.
The term hospitalist was first coined by Robert Wachter and Lee Goldman in a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine article. The scope of hospital medicine includes acute patient care, teaching, research, and executive leadership related to the delivery of hospital-based care. Hospital medicine, like emergency medicine, is a specialty organized around a site of care (the hospital), rather than an organ (like cardiology), a disease (like oncology), or a patient’s age (like pediatrics). A similar field, acute medicine, has recently developed in the United Kingdom.
Hospitalists are physicians with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. While it was commonly believed that any residency program with a heavy inpatient component provided good hospitalist training, studies have found that general residency training is inadequate because common hospitalist problems like neurology, hospice and palliative care, consultative medicine, and quality improvement tend to be glossed over. To address this, residency programs are starting to develop hospitalist tracks with more tailored education. Several universities have also started fellowship programs specifically geared toward hospital medicine.
According to the State of Hospital Medicine Survey by the Medical Group Management Association and the Society of Hospital Medicine, 89.60% of hospitalists specialize in general internal medicine, 5.5% in a pediatrics subspecialty, 3.7% in family practice and 1.2% in internal medicine pediatrics. Data from the survey also reported that 53.5% of hospitalists are employed by hospitals/integrated delivery system and 25.3% are employed by independent hospitalists groups.
According to the recent data, there are more than 30,000 hospitalists practicing in 3,300 large hospitals and half of all community hospitals.
Hospital medicine is a relatively new phenomenon in American medicine and as such is the fastest growing specialty in the history of medicine. Almost unheard of a generation ago, this type of practice arose from three powerful shifts in medical practice:
In addition to patient care duties, hospitalists are often involved in developing and managing aspects of hospital operations such as inpatient flow and quality improvement. The formation of hospitalist training tracks in residency programs has been driven in part by the need to educate future hospitalists about business and operational aspects of medicine, as these topics are not covered in traditional residencies.
As a relatively new specialty, only recently has certification for specialty experience and training for hospital medicine been offered. The American Board of Hospital Medicine (ABHM), a Member Board of the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS), was founded in 2009. The ABHM was North America’s first board of certification devoted exclusively to hospital medicine. In September 2009, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) created a program that provides general internists practicing in hospital settings the opportunity to maintain Internal Medicine Certification with a Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine (FPHM).
Research shows that hospitalists reduce the length of stay, treatment costs and improve the overall efficiency of care for hospitalized patients. Hospitalists are leaders on several quality improvement initiatives in key areas including transitions of care, co-management of patients, reducing hospital acquired diseases and optimizing the care of patients.
The number of available hospitalists positions grew exponentially from 2006 to 2010 but has since then leveled off. However, the job market still remained very active with some hospitals maintaining permanent openings for capable hospitalists. Salaries are generally very competitive, averaging almost $230,000 per year for adult hospitalists. Hospitalists who are willing to work night shifts only (nocturnist) are compensated higher than their day shift peers.