Personal Physician or Hospitalist?

If your loved one lives near a hospital, it’s wise to choose a doctor with hospital privileges. Many hospitals now employ “hospitalists” — doctors who work for the hospital and treat you only during your hospital stay.

For younger patients, this might be okay, especially for acute matters like broken bones or accidental wounds.

But for older patients, whether the matter is acute or chronic, it’s a good idea to be treated by a doctor who knows their medical history and can work from that history in analyzing and treating the presenting problem.

One Saturday my mother and I were visiting a dear friend whose husband had just been killed in a carjacking. This couple meant a great deal to my Mom and she fainted during our visit. I called her physician immediately, and he kindly met us at the hospital and had my Mom admitted. That alone was a blessing.

Over the next few days, the doctor ordered multiple tests, and I watched as he analyzed the test results in light of my mother’s preceding ten-year medical history. He diagnosed and treated her, and she went home after a short stay.

While a hospitalist in this circumstance might have been a top-notch physician, he or she would have had no first-hand knowledge of my mother’s history.

It was the fact that my Mom’s doctor knew her history which allowed him to swiftly treat and release her.

The other challenge with hospitalists is that you might not be treated by the same doctor every day. If you’ve spent any time in a hospital on your own or with a loved one, you know the importance of continuity of care. When the doctor asks how you’re feeling today, you want her to remember how you felt yesterday and make her own comparison of your responses. And while charting is critical, it’s not infallible.

If you’re helping your Mom or Dad choose an independent or assisted living facility, ask if their Medical Director has hospital privileges. Many do, and since the Medical Director often becomes the resident’s primary physician, the same philosophy applies.

There’s a reason some of the best living facilities market themselves as “Continuing Care.” There’s value in continuity. Both at the hospital and at home.

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