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Hospitalists ease demands on primary doctors while giving patients constant attention

| Monday, July 29, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Dr. Gwen Breuer at the 2D nurses station at ACMH Hospital on Thursday, July 25, 2013, where she reports to gather daily rounds for her shift.

In days gone by, doctors would make house calls. With leather bag in hand, they would take your temperature and divvy out pills, all in the comfort of your home.

Until this month, if you were a patient at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, your doctor would visit you in your hospital room, checking your chart and making recommendations for your recovery.

But on July 1, Armstrong started a new program, one that's finding momentum across the nation. It's a program where your primary care physician won't be standing at the foot of your bed, but instead, you'll have a doctor known as a hospitalist.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hospitalist as “a physician who specializes in treating hospitalized patients of other physicians in order to minimize the number of hospital visits by other physicians.” According to Emergency Resource Management Inc. Vice President of Hospitalist Services Dr. Amy Meister, a hospitalist is much more than that.

Meister said this new program will not only provide better care to the patient in the hospital but also help primary care physicians spend more time with their office patients.

“The hospitalist program is a safety mechanism,” said Meister. “There is a physician on staff to see patients 24/7. Prior to the hospitalist program, most hospitals would only have an ER doctor on staff at night. That's one doctor for the whole hospital. If he is tied up, it's hard for him to get to a patient.”

So the hospitalist program will provide patients with access to a board certified doctor around the clock. But what exactly can you expect if you are admitted to ACMH and a hospitalist, not your primary care physician, is attending to you?

“The highest level of care and communication,” Meister said.

Knowing that patients may not understand why their primary care physician isn't attending, Meister and her team of hospitalists make it their business to connect with each patient.

“We meet the patient and we give them a business card with our name and picture on it, so they know who we are.”

Meister continues, “With many elderly patients we make it clear that we are there on behalf of their primary care physician. We will also ask them if they need us to communicate to anyone else in the family.”

The doctors in the hospitalist program make it clear that the patients' primary care physician is still involved in their care.

“If we need to page the PCP, we can, if necessary.”

So if your primary care physician no longer has to travel to the hospital to make the rounds, Meister said, this will be a benefit to him and his in-office patients.

“They are not running back and forth. They can be more efficient in the office and have a better, more rewarding life outside of the office. They are more refreshed to face the demands of (their) practice.”

Certainly, Dr. Gwen Breuer, a local primary care physician who recently left her practice to become one of the hospitalists at ACMH, understands the pressures of being responsible for her office and hospitalized patients.

“For me, I had to realize primary care is changing quickly to the point where primary care doctors are needing to focus on being in the office or the hospital. It's hard to do both. I was holding on to the traditional ways of practice, but I had to roll with the changes.”

Breuer is positive about the program but realizes there are challenges when stepping up to a patient's bedside.

“You have to have a rapport right away. A quick relationship must develop.” Breuer continues, “We help them understand that we are their doctor in the hospital, but there is communication between us and their (primary care physician). We work hand in hand.”

But Breuer believes that it might be a bit easier for her to establish these relationships.

“I grew up in the community (in Ford City). It will be easier because I know people in the community.”

Dr. Meister clarifies that not everyone's doctor will participate in the hospitalist program — but every patient still can benefit.

“If a PCP is participating with the program, then the patient will only see the hospitalist. If not, if it's the evening, and you come in with a heart attack, the hospitalist will still see you until your PCP is available.”

According to Meister, the hospitalist will provide excellent care. He or she will be “someone who can communicate, has compassion and competency.”

Meister assures that each doctor on the team is as qualified as any patient's doctor, and the benefit is that there will be a hospitalist member attending patients 24 hours a day.

“This is concierge medicine,” Meister said. “Physicians on demand.

“Our goal is to help patients have power over their health and to help them maintain their wellness.”

It is said change is inevitable. Changes in health care are unavoidable. But the team of doctors spearheading the ACMH hospitalist program believes that this change will be for the better.

Kathleen Edwards is a Leader Times correspondent.

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