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What Is A Hospitalist?

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Carmela Cook
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Baptist Health Care

If you’ve had a stay at a hospital over the past decade or so, you’ve probably been treated by a new kind of specialist: a hospitalist.  "A hospitalist is a physician or practitioner whose primary focus is on the comprehensive care of hospitalized patients" said Dr. John Sullivan, a native of Australia, who is a hospitalist and the Medical Director of Hospital Medicine at Baptist Health Care in Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. "They are almost all internal medicine, family practice or pediatric trained physicians. Patients that might come in with complaints that warrant inpatient evaluation or treatment, usually that's  us and we are contacted from the Emergency Room to take over their care until they are discharged back into the community and back to their primary care physician." 

And, for the most part, that’s what a hospitalist is, a sort of general practitioner who coordinates the care of patients while they are in the hospital. "The training for internal medicine or (pediatrics) or family practice, a lot of that is hospital based. Certainly in internal medicine when I came out, hospital medicine wasn't a thing.  But really our training was geared all towards taking care of the hospitalized patient." 

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Credit Baptist Health Care
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Dr. John Sullivan

  Dr. Sullivan says there were certainly doctors practicing hospital medicine all along as hospitalists, that word just hadn't been coined yet. Many people remember a time when family doctors routinely made rounds in a local hospital and took care of their hospitalized patients. The idea of hospital medicine is that once a patient is admitted, a hospitalist can be much more hands on and give patients more time during their stay.

A physician's career path is another factor in the growth of hospital medicine. Dr. Sullivan says for a family doctor who has no desire to also become a small business owner, becoming a hospitalist makes perfect sense. "When I went into practice, it was daunting to think that I was going to be setting up a business, which would be a traditional internal medicine practice. (Becoming a hospitalist) was a much more simple approach. It meant that I was employed and that I did not have the headaches that go along with running a business. I was able to just practice medicine"

Dr. Sullivan says as time has gone on, many family physicians have trusted the care of their patients to hospitalists when they are admitted, and that trend is expected to continue and expand.  He says the specialty has seen tremendous growth in just a short time. He says when the term hospitalist was coined back in the mid 1990s, there were less than a thousand hospitalists in the U.S. "Now, there's more than 40 thousand hospitalists, and that growth has not slowed whatsoever. Certainly locally, here at Baptist Hospital, with our patient volumes we have continued to grow. We are up to 25 practitioners in our group."

Dr. John Sullivan is a Hospitalist and the Medical Director of the Hospital Medicine Department at Baptist Health Care. He says one of the best outcomes that can come from his care of a patient is never seeing that patient in the hospital again. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.