The changing healthcare environment in America has ensured that there are more hospitalist jobs than ever before. Most of these jobs are filled by permanent placement workers while others are handled by locum tenens doctors on a temporary basis. In either case, hospitalists need to understand that patients have certain expectations of them. Those expectations manifest themselves in the questions patients ask.
One of the dangers of hospitalist medicine is that of giving insufficient attention to patient questions. The temptation exists because hospitalists do not tend to develop the same kinds of long-term relationships with their patients as private practice owners or partners do. Still, hospitalist doctors need to be just as attentive and accommodating.
In terms of answering patient questions, here are four questions every hospitalist should be prepared to answer:
1. Will you be handling most of my care?
This question is one of probing to find out exactly who the hospitalist is and what role he or she will play in patient care. Patients and their families need a straight answer so that they know, right from the onset, who they will be dealing with most of the time.
If the answer is ‘yes’, the hospitalist should introduce him or herself along with offering assurances that every effort will be made to provide uncompromising care. If the answer is ‘no’, the hospitalist should do his or her best to ensure both patient and family are eventually introduced to whoever is in the role of primary caregiver.
2. What other doctors/nurses can I expect to see?
Part of the modern hospitalist movement is to incorporate employed doctors into larger healthcare teams that include nurses, patient advocates, and any specialists needed to provide adequate care. Patients know this. Therefore, they have an expectation that they will eventually be introduced to every member of the healthcare team.
Being up front about a patient’s healthcare team goes a long way to putting that person’s mind at ease. On the other hand, keeping information about the team from the patient is a good way to start out on the wrong foot. The best policy is to be open and honest about team members and why their contributions are required.
4. What can you do to improve my health?
This question is one of diagnosis and prognosis. Understandably, there are times when patients want an answer before one is actually possible. In such cases, they need to be reassured that the medical team is doing everything they can to figure out what’s going on. If the hospitalist can provide an immediate diagnosis and prognosis, it is better to inform the patient accordingly. Again, holding on to information doesn’t help the doctor-patient relationship.
5. Will I have input in the decision-making process?
Patients are taking a more active role in their own healthcare these days. This is a good thing. But along with a more active role comes the inevitable question of whether the patient and his or her family will be involved in making decisions. How the hospitalist answers this question will directly influence the doctor-patient relationship. As a side note, patients and family members need to be involved.
Whether working as an employed hospitalist or a locum practitioner, the hospitalist doctor is part of an emerging trend in medicine, a trend that emphasizes healthcare teams and patient satisfaction. The modern hospitalist must be able to work in this new environment in order to be successful. This includes being attentive enough to adequately answer patient questions and address the concerns of family members.