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Hospitalists Take On Patient Care, Easing Docs Burden

Jane Gross, of The New York Times offers a comprehensive piece about "hospitalists," which she describes as "America's fastest growing medical specialty."

This new hybrid M.D. — part clinical care provider, part administrator — helps treat the patient and also arranges followup care, as well as direction on how to navigate the often bewildering hospital and post-discharge environment. This greatly relieves the burden on the patient's family physician, that is, if one is even available. Gross explains the importance of the hospitalists role:

Because hospitalists are on top of everything that happens to a patient — from entry through treatment and discharge — they are largely credited with reducing the length of hospital stays by anywhere from 17 to 30 percent, and reducing costs by 13 to 20 percent, according to studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association. As their numbers have grown, from 800 in the 1990s to 30,000 today, medical experts have come to see hospitalists as potential leaders in the transition to the Obama administration’s health care reforms, to be phased in by 2014.

Under the new legislation, hospitals will be penalized for readmissions, medical errors and inefficient operating systems. Avoidable readmissions are the costliest mistakes for the government and the taxpayer, and they now occur for one in five patients, gobbling $17.4 billion of Medicare’s current $102.6 billion budget.

Dr. Subha Airan-Javia, Mr. Keita’s hospitalist, splits her time between clinical care and designing computer programs to contain costs and manage staff workflow. The discharge process she walked Mr. Keita and his wife through can work well, or badly, with very different results. Do it safely and the patient gets better. Do it wrong, and he’s back on the hospital doorstep — with a second set of bills.

This program aired on May 27, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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