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2016: Celebrating 20 Years of Hospital Medicine and Looking Toward a Bright Future


For hospitalists who were practicing medicine in 1996, it may seem like just a few years ago; however, that was when the term “hospitalist” was first used by Bob Wachter, MD, MHM, and Lee Goldman, MD, in a New England Journal of Medicine article. And for those who started their hospitalist careers since then, it may be inconceivable that there was a time before hospitalists were widely known.

In either case, 20 years later, the term has stuck and now identifies more than 44,000 hospitalists nationwide.

SHM will be commemorating the specialty’s milestone all year, referring to 2016 as the “Year of the Hospitalist.”

In addition to yearlong recognition of hospitalists, SHM will celebrate the Year of the Hospitalist in front of thousands at a plenary session at HM16 in San Diego. There, SHM co-founders John Nelson, MD, MHM, and Win Whitcomb, MD, MHM, will offer their own perspective on the specialty after just 20 years—and what’s to come.

“When Win Whitcomb and I began talking about forming a medical society, we wanted to make sure it would serve as a forum for exchange of ideas about the most effective ways to approach our work,” Dr. Nelson recalls. “It is really gratifying to see all the ways SHM has done that and to think about how it will be increasingly important for all in hospital medicine to have a way to stay connected given the ever-increasing pace of change in hospital care and healthcare generally.”

Dr. Whitcomb shares Dr. Nelson’s awe at the growth and influence of the specialty in a relatively short amount of time.

“A lot has changed in 20 years. Back then, we were surprised to observe that hospitalists, yet unnamed, could reliably decrease cost and length of stay,” Dr. Whitcomb says. “Then, in 1999, hospital medicine was transformed as patient safety emerged as a bona fide discipline.”

However, the transitions are not over for hospitalists, he says.

“As we see healthcare in the midst of a generational transition to alternative payment models like ACOs and bundled payment, hospitalists will once again reinvent themselves, this time to influence care over not just the inpatient stay but also patients’ transition out of the hospital and back into the primary care system,” Dr. Whitcomb says. TH

Brendon Shank is SHM’s associate vice president of communications.

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