Who Is In Charge When You Are Hospitalized?

When you go to the hospital in Virginia, you would think someone was in charge.

But as the Washington Post recently wrote, there are often the rotating group of health care providers caring for patients in a hospital setting. 

A patient hospitalized today is usually not followed by their primary care doctor who has provided treatment for years.  The primary care doctor knows the patient’s medical history, medications, allergies, and general state of health.  Today, a person who is admitted to a hospital may see six or more specialists (surgeons, internists, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, and the list goes on and on).

The problem is these doctors often fail to communicate with each other and the patient is left confused at best and falls through the cracks in our health care system at worst – so who is in charge?

Some hospitals have hired physicians who are called hospitalists.

A hospitalist is a physician whose primary professional focus is hospital medicine.  The practical effect of the hospitalist is to act as medical care coordinator and case manager, due to the tremendous growth in medical knowledge and resultant number of medical specialists.

Unfortunately, the use of hospitalists has not always resulted in better medical care for the patient.

The Washington Post recently discussed this problem (“Hospitalized patients too often have no single physician in charge of their care“):

Advocates for hospital patients and their families say confusion about who is managing a patient’s care and the failure of caregivers to collaborate are endemic, contributing to an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths from medical errors each year. A landmark report by the Institute of Medicine in 1999 cited the fragmented health-care system and patients’ reliance on multiple providers as a leading cause of medical mistakes. Leape, who helped author that report, says there have been improvements since, but “we have not done enough.”

My Take:  Be proactive.  Take notes.  Ask questions. Demand answers. If you are still confused over the condition of your health and your treatment options, request a face-to-face meeting with all involved doctors.  And if you have encountered a situation where you witnessed lack of communication and coordinated care in the following hospitals in western Virginia, do not hesitate to contact our office.


Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.