Stories are told of the first meeting, 20 years ago, where a hat was passed to collect donations to develop a fledgling organization of inpatient physicians. Today, 90% of hospitals with 200+ beds operate with a hospitalist model. Today, we are the Society of Hospital Medicine.
In the early 1900s, health care in many ways was simple. It was a doctor with a shingle hung. It was house calls. Remedies were limited. In the 1940s, companies developed insurance benefits to lure workers during World War II; this third party, the payer, added complexity. Meanwhile, treatment options began to diversify. Then, in the 1960s, Medicare was passed, and the government came into the mix, further increasing this complexity. Diagnostic and treatment options continued to diversify, seemingly exponentially. Some would say it took 30 years for our country to recognize that it had created the most advanced and expensive, as well as one of the least quality-controlled, health systems in the world. Thus, as hospital medicine was conceived in the 1990s, our national health system was awakening to the need – the creative niche – that hospitalists would fill.
When I began my career, I was unaware that I was a hospitalist. The title didn’t exist. Yes, I was working solely in the hospital. I was developing programs to improve care delivery. I was rounding, teaching, collaborating, connecting – everything that we now call hospital medicine. That first job has evolved into my career, one that I find both honorable and enjoyable.
As health care changes with the passing years, being a hospitalist continues to be about serving people, connecting, and improving care. Being a hospitalist is being innovative, willing, and even daring. Dare to try, dare to fail, dare to redesign and try again. Hospital medicine is thinking outside of the box while knowing how to color between the lines. In the coming decades, health care will continue to evolve, and hospital medicine will too. We now encompass surgical comanagement and perioperative care, palliative care, postacute care, and transitions of care services. In corners, hospital medicine is already experimenting with telecare, virtual health, and hospital at home. Our hospital medicine workforce is innovative, diverse, tech savvy and poised for leading.
We are ready and willing to face the pressures affecting health care in the United States today: the recognition of an overwhelming expense to society, the relative underperformance with regard to quality, the increasing complexity of illness and treatment options, the worsening health of the average American citizen, the aging population, the role of medical error in patient harm, the increasing engagement of people in their own care, and the desire to make care better. What our country is facing is actually a phenomenal opportunity, no matter what side of the political aisle you live on. Being in hospital medicine today is being at the center front of this evolutionary stage.
Since joining the SHM board of directors, I continue to find examples of the stellar work of our staff and our members across the country. Having the privilege as a board member to join several Chapter meetings, I have witnessed firsthand the camaraderie, the compassion, the team that makes our Society work. From Houston to San Francisco and from St. Louis to Seattle, I have been honored to work with SHM members that create and nurture local and regional networks with the support of SHM’s Chapters program – a program that now houses more than 50 chapters and has launched regional districts to further support networking and growth. SHM’s chapter venues allow our larger hospital medicine team – yes, the national one – to connect and collaborate.
Take the Pacific Northwest Chapter. In its early years hospitalists from various and competing health systems would convene at a restaurant and just talk. They spoke of how to staff, how to pay, and how to negotiate with hospital leadership. As I have joined chapter meetings in recent years, meetings continue to be the place to share ideas – how to develop new programs; what is the most recent approach to glycemic control, sepsis care, or antibiotic stewardship; how best to approach diagnosis without “anchoring”; and even how to care for each other in the time of loss of a colleague to suicide. It is here in our community that we share experiences, knowledge, new ideas – and this sharing makes us all stronger.
Our hospital medicine community also comes together through areas of shared interest. There are 18 Special Interest Groups (SIGs), focused on specific topic areas. I have been privileged as a board member to work with our Perioperative/Comanagement SIG as it launched in 2017 and has grown rapidly. Currently, the community hosts a “case of the month” hospital medicine discussion as well as a regular journal club webinar that allows participants to review recent literature and interact directly with the authors. As this SIG has grown, shared resources and ideas have allowed for diffusion of knowledge, providing our nation with infrastructure for improving perioperative care. It is networks like this that support our national hospital medicine team to build strength through sharing.
It is our society, our people, that have taken us from the passing of a hat to developing our national community and network. This March, we get to celebrate our field in a new way – Thursday, March 7, 2019, marks the inaugural National Hospitalist Day. Then, March 24-27, our annual conference, Hospital Medicine 2019, will bring thousands of our national team to National Harbor, Maryland. Join your colleagues. Find your niche and your community. Be a part of the change you want to see. While you are there, come introduce yourself to me and let me thank you for the amazing work you are doing.
We are all a part of this movement transforming patient care both on a local and national level. As we move to the future, our innovative, diverse, and connected network of hospital medicine will continue to create and guide health care advances in our country.
Dr. Thompson is professor and chief of the section of hospital medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center, and medical director of clinical care transitions at Nebraska Medicine, Omaha.