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'Hospitalist' Physicians Help Shorten Patient Stays
Date:12/20/2007

Emerging specialty brings more efficient, yet equally safe, patient management, study suggests

THURSDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- A new breed of medical specialists, called hospitalists, can make a small but significant difference in shortening how long a patient needs to stay in the hospital, a new study shows.

The 2002-2005 study of almost 77,000 hospital stays at 45 centers showed that treatment by a hospitalist, rather than a general internist, resulted in about a half-day reduction in overall hospital stays on average, along with an average $268 drop in costs.

At the same time, researchers found no difference in the rate of either patient death or readmission when hospitalists were involved, according to the report in the Dec. 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

A hopsitalist refers to a physician who cares solely for hospitalized patients.

The term may be new to the general public, but, in the medical profession, "hospitalist has been a recognized and accepted term that has been around for about a decade," said study author Dr. Peter K. Lindenauer, an associate professor of medicine at Baystate Medical Center and Tufts University, in Boston.

In fact, "There is a Society of Hospital Medicine with 5,000 to 10,000 members, and it is estimated that there may be 20,000 hospitalists across the United States now," Lindenauer said.

"What you can't debate is the number of hospitalists around the country -- there is no going back," added Dr. Laurence McMahon, chief of the division of general medicine at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

"We need to think about how these new doctors get into the health-care system and how they care for patients who are hospitalized," said Mcmahon, who also authored an accompanying editorial on the issue.

Traditionally, a person's private physician has been responsible for care after hospitalization, he said
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