Hospitalists take pressure off family doctors

April 20, 2010 6:49:52 AM PDT
It's a fact of medical life. Many doctors must see more and more patients in a day just to pay the bills. And if they have to go to the hospital in addition to see their sickest patients there, it takes time away from those patients in the office. Now, the medical system is offering these office doctors some help.

Dr. Dahlia Rizk may look like just another doctor making rounds on her hospitalized patients. But she is actually a hospitalist, a brand of doctor who only works in the hospital and takes over the care of very sick patients from the doctor whom the patients sees in the office.

"Doctors in the community are having more difficulty getting to the bedside, as they need to be more availablve to patinet in the office," she said.

Dr. Rizk and the other hospitalists are available 24 hours a day to check test results and schedule new ones, as well as to move patients through the medical system so that they're diagnosed, treated and discharged as soon as possible. They can spend a greater amount of time with patients than can the outside doctor, who may come by for only a few minutes each day.

One role of the hospitalist is to increase patient safety, to reduce infections and to reduce hospital errors, especially medication errors.

Amalia Rivera was been hospitalized for asthma attacks and needed a breathing tube in her windpipe. Though she trusts her own doctor in the office, she trusts Dr. Rizk when she's very sick at the hospital.

"I have such faith in Dr. Rizk," Rivera said. "She brings it to me, whatever she decides to do, I'll go for it, because I really feel that comfortable with her, you know?"

The chairman of Beth Israel's Department of Medicine says phone calls between admitting doctor and hospitalist brings the best care to the patient.

"As long as doctors communicate with one another, the patient wins," Dr. Henry Bodenheimer said. "And the more doctors working on the problem, the better the outcome."

Both patients and their outside doctors say they appreciate the 24-hour-a-day care from the hospitalist program, basically having a doctor available at the bedside any time, day or night. All the teaching hospitals in the city have hospitalist programs.