Who is this person taking care of me? Local health systems utilize ‘hospitalist’ approach

by Jason Webber

Dr. Steven Zook is a hometown product and a University of Toledo School of Medicine graduate who works at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. He’s also a member of what has been called “the fastest growing specialty in the history of modern medicine”—hospitalists.

What is a hospitalist?
Coined in 1996, the term “hospitalist” is defined by Oxford Languages as “a dedicated in-patient physician who works exclusively in a hospital.” Dr. Zook helpfully expands on this basic definition. “Hospitalists are focused around a site of care as opposed to an organ system or specific disease. We’re a bit more of a jack of all trades,” said Dr. Zook, who has been a hospitalist for almost eight years.

Zook cites the advantage of the hospitalist system of medical care for streamlining communication between a hospitalized patient and their primary care physician. In traditional hospital settings, a hospital physician would typically make rounds, or visits to hospitalized patients, at the hospital before tending to their regularly work schedule. Under the hospitalist model, the physician works for the hospital full-time so their attention is focused solely on individual care of each patient.

“I like to manage and know a little about everything. Something I really like about hospital medicine is that I may have a patient with heart failure then I move on and I treat a patient with pneumonia and I move on to my next patient and I diagnose a lymphoma and so on. It keeps things new and engaging and fresh for me,” said Zook, who says 40 to 50 percent of the patients he sees are 65 and older.  “We take geriatric medicine very seriously,” explains Zook. “I see patients living longer and needing more complex medical care. As the population ages and the proportion of that changes, hospitalists become more important.”

Local hospitals employing hospitalists
Locally, both ProMedica and Mercy Health Systems use the hospitalist model. According to Zook, the real advantage of using hospitalists is to ensure fast and accurate communication between a patient and their primary care physician. Nowadays, the hospitalist system is becoming the standard way a patient is admitted into the hospital, since primary care physicians aren’t always able to examine and decide to admit their patients before they are hospitalized. 

As for drawbacks from this system,  patients often would prefer to interact with their primary care physician during a hospital stay.  Primary care physicians generally have a personal relationship with the patient and that is reassuring while providing a consistency of care. Zook says hospitalists are the next best thing.

“Of course, it would be ideal to make your family doctor take care of you during your acute illness, but at this point with electronic medical records, the communication between hospitalists and primary care physicians is really seamless in care delivery,” said Zook. “If the ER decides to admit you into the hospital, by default it is a hospitalist, working for the hospital, who is going to admit you. Nationally, the trend is by far moving to a hospitalist model.”

As  the term “hospitalist” becomes more and more well-known, Zook admires those who do the work he does, calling them the “front line” of the COVID-19 pandemic.  “(Hospitalists) have been around for about 25 years, but we’re still kind of unknown by the general public. But what we do is very important work.”

For more information on hospitalists, visit the Society of Hospital Medicine at hospitalmedicine.org

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