For those unaware, a “hospitalist” is a physician who works exclusively in a hospital setting and specializes in Hospital Medicine. Most commonly, hospitalists undergo residency training in Internal Medicine or Family Medicine and, therefore, have education and training similar to doctors practicing as primary care physicians or family doctors.
However, some hospitalists have training in other medical specialties, and some hospitalists do undergo hospital-focused post-residency training, such as a fellowship in Hospital Medicine. Because they work in hospital settings, hospitalists frequently have to manage acutely ill and hospitalized patients. Often their role involves coordinating the treatment of the various physician specialists involved in a patient’s care while they are hospitalized. A hospitalist, in a sense, can serve as a patient’s primary care physician while the patient is in the hospital.
Hospital Medicine is a relatively new area of medical specialization, having only really come into existence within the last twenty years. Board certification in Hospital Medicine has only been offered since 2009. However, the number of hospitalists in the United States has increased significantly in the last ten years. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 44,000 practicing hospitalists in the U.S. in 2014, based on information provided by The Society of Hospital Medicine. Today, if you are admitted into a hospital, there is a good chance a hospitalist will be involved in your care.
Under the law, a hospitalist is held to the same standard as any other physician: they must comply with the standard of medical care applicable to their specialty. Stated another way, they must provide the same level of care that the average hospitalist would have provided under the same circumstances. If the care provided by a hospitalist to a patient deviates from, or falls below, this standard of care, they have committed medical negligence and can be liable to that patient if the negligence caused harm or increased the risk of harm to that patient.
A recent study conducted by The Doctors Company, a medical professional liability insurance carrier, analyzed medical malpractice claims filed against hospitalists between 2007 and 2014. The study revealed that 78% of all medical malpractice claims against hospitalists during that period fell into three categories: delayed or incorrect diagnosis, improper treatment management, and medication error. The results of the study also suggested that 35% of medical malpractice claims against hospitalists involved inadequate patient assessments.