Hospitalist Program

Health care in Reedsport is stepping up to a new level in 2016.  Medical care for patients admitted to Lower Umpqua Hospital will now be directed by a new breed of specialists, termed Hospitalists.  Hospital Medicine is the newest and fastest growing subspecialty in the United States.  The term ‘Hospitalist’ was coined by Dr. Robert Wachter in a New England Journal of Medicine article in 1996.   Hospitalists are physicians who are dedicated to the practice of medicine solely in the hospital, directing the medical care of acutely ill hospitalized patients.  Prior to the advent of Hospitalists, medical care for hospitalized patients was mostly administered by primary care physicians, who at the same time were busy seeing patients at their clinics.   Most primary care physicians found that they could not effectively be in two places at one time.  Managing the needs of an acutely ill patient in the hospital pulled them away from their busy clinical practice, requiring appointments to be cut short or rescheduled.  Hospitalists typically spend most or all of their work day in the hospital.   Being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week including holidays and weekends, Hospitalists are more able to respond to the often rapidly changing needs of an acutely ill patient than a doctor who is also trying to serve the needs of his clinic patients and manage a busy outpatient practice.

Who are these Hospitalists?  By and large they are physicians who have a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.  Roughly 90 percent of these physicians are trained in Internal Medicine with Family Practice and Pediatric Medicine making up the remainder.   There are now approximately 44,000 Hospitalists practicing within the United States and Canada and the demand continues to grow exponentially.  The trend towards hospital based care is spreading to other countries as well, and is also beginning to include practitioners of other specialties – Surgery, Cardiology, and Neurology to name a few.

How will the skills of Hospitalists be utilized at Lower Umpqua Hospital?  Emergency department physicians are generally the first physician the patient encounters when they are acutely ill.  If it’s determined that the patient needs hospitalization to properly treat their illness, the Hospitalist is notified.  Together the Emergency physician and the Hospitalist decide whether the patient is appropriate to receive treatment at Lower Umpqua Hospital or needs to be transferred to a larger facility where they can have access to specialists or procedures that are not available here at our smaller hospital.   If appropriate care can be administered here, the Hospitalist will evaluate the patient, initiate the treatment, and assume care and responsibility of the patient.  The Hospitalist will evaluate the patient daily and be readily accessible for any changing needs that occur and be available for providing updates and consultations to the patient’s family members.   The Hospitalists will also serve on hospital committees and will be involved in patient safety and quality improvement initiatives.

Hospitals themselves are complex systems involved in solving problems with multiple potentially changing variables.   Hospitalists are specialists dedicated solely to that arena and to providing safe and effective care to patients at a time when they need it most.   The Hospitalists at Lower Umpqua Hospital are committed to ensuring that quality medical care is available to all of the residents of this community who are in need of hospitalization.

By Steven Richards, MD