Harvard Women's Health Watch

When your care involves a hospitalist

Hospital stays can be full of surprises. One might be the doctor who shows up in place of your personal physician.

When Lydia Markham (not her real name) was admitted to the hospital one night with chest pains, she expected her primary care doctor to come by in the morning. Instead, she got a visit from a hospitalist — a physician who manages your care in the hospital, then transfers responsibility back to your personal physician when the hospital stay is over. Though surprised, Lydia was not upset because the hospitalist was attentive and assured her that he was in close contact with her doctor. Her chest pains turned out to be nothing serious, and she was out of the hospital within 24 hours. But had she been critically ill or facing a longer stay, Lydia says she's not sure how she would have felt about having her care turned over to someone she didn't know.

Who are hospitalists?

The term "hospitalist" was introduced in 1996 to describe "a new breed of physicians" that provide care only in the hospital setting (New England Journal of Medicine, Aug. 16, 1996). Though relatively new as a full-time specialty, the hospitalist concept is a variation on certain established practices, such as the rotation system, in which one member of a group practice supervises all of its hospitalized patients while his or her partners remain in the office. Hospitalists also share features with emergency room (ER) doctors, who see patients only during their ER "shifts" and are in charge of patients' care only while they're in the ER.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »