A new breed of physician is coming to a hospital near you: the hospitalist. And they hold tremendous promise for improving quality and lowering costs.

Hospitalists, who specialize in caring for hospitalized patients, are specially trained to effectively diagnose and treat high-acuity patients. Assuming primary responsibility for managing medical and surgical patients, hospitalists also help determine admissions from emergency departments and keep the patient’s office-based docs in the loop.

While traditional office-based physicians visit hospitalized patients before or after office hours, hospitalists are onsite and immediately accessible to patients and their families. A fulltime hospitalist can care for ten times the number of inpatients than an office-based physician.

Supported by an array of new information management technologies, evidenced-driven protocols, and a team-based approach to care, the hospitalist model dramatically improves clinical decision-making. When done right, this translates to fewer medical errors, better patient outcomes, and lower costs from shorter stays and fewer re-admissions.

The hospitalist model is gaining attention among cost and quality conscious employers, health plans, and hospitals. Hospital services represent some 40 percent of health spending and physician decisions direct more than 80 percent of hospital services.

An excellent new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change says “Mounting financial pressures, increasing problems with patient flow in hospitals, a growing focus on patient safety, and rising malpractice costs…” are increasing use of the hospitalist model.

The number of hospitals increased from a few hundred in the mid-1990s to more than 8,000 in 2003, according to the Society for Hospital Medicine, the professional society of hospitalists.