The need for professional identity
Arpana Vidyarthi, MD, “grew up” professionally in hospital medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, a pioneering institution for hospital medicine, and in SHM. “We used to say: If you’ve seen one hospital medicine group, you’ve seen one hospital medicine group,” she said.
Dr. Vidyarthi went to Singapore in 2011, taking a job as a hospitalist at Singapore General Hospital and the affiliated Duke–National University Medical School, eventually directing the Division of Advanced Internal Medicine (general and hospital medicine) at the National University Health System, before moving back to UCSF in 2020.
“Professional identity is one of the biggest benefits hospital medicine can bestow in Singapore and across Asia, where general medicine is underdeveloped. Just as it did 20 years ago in the U.S., that professional identity offers a road map to achieving competency in practicing medicine in the hospital setting,” Dr. Vidyarthi said.
At UCSF, the professional identity of a hospitalist is broad but defined. The research agenda, quality, safety, and educational competencies are specific, seen through a system lens, she added. “We take pride in that professional identify. This is an opportunity for countries where general medicine is underdeveloped and undervalued.”
But the term hospital medicine – or the American model – isn’t always welcomed by health care systems in other countries, Dr Vidyarthi said. “The label of 'hospital medicine' brings people together in professional identify, and that professional identity opens doors. But for it to have legs in other countries, those skills need to be of value to the local system. It needs to make sense, as it did in the United States, and to add value for the identified gaps that need to be filled.”
In Singapore, the health care system turned to the model of acute medical units (AMUs) and the acute medicine physician specialty developed in the United Kingdom, which created a new way of delivering care, a new geography of care, and new set of competencies around which to build training and certification.
AMUs manage the majority of acute medical patients who present to the emergency department and get admitted, with initial treatment for a maximum of 72 hours. Acute physicians, trained in the specialty of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of adult patients with urgent medical needs, work in a unit situated between the emergency department entrance and the specialty care units. This specialty has been recognized since 2009.2
“Acute medicine is the standard care model in the UK and is now found in all government hospitals in Singapore. This model is being adapted across Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Islands,” Dr. Vidyarthi said. “Advantages include the specific geography of the unit, and outcomes that are value-added to these systems such as decreased use of hospital beds in areas with very high bed occupancy rates.”
In many locales, a variety of titles are used to describe doctors who are not hospitalists as we understand them but whose work is based in the hospital, including house officer, duty officer, junior officer, registrar, or general practitioner. Often these hospital-based doctors, who may in fact be residents or nongraduated trainees, lack the training and the scope of practice of a hospitalist. Because they typically need to consult the supervising physician before making inpatient management decisions, they aren’t able to provide the timely response to the patient’s changing medical condition that is needed to manage today’s acute patients.