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Goodbye 'inpatient physicians,' hello 'hospital medicine'

The organization representing hospitalists has changed its name to reflect growth and changes in the field

From the April ACP Observer, copyright 2003 by the American College of Physicians.

By Deborah Gesensway

Six years ago, the term "hospitalist" was not popular with most physicians. So when the fledging organization representing hospital-based internists and pediatricians began looking for a name, the organization's founders decided to call themselves "inpatient physicians."

Time has passed, however, and physicians today brag about being hospitalists. A survey of hospitals in Massachusetts found that hospitalists already manage more than 40% of inpatient bed days throughout the state, for example, while classified ads for hospitalists fill the pages of medical journals nationwide.

That's why on March 31, the 3,900-member National Association of Inpatient Physicians (NAIP) changed its name to the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM).

The name change reflects not only medicine's acceptance of hospitalists and the specialty of hospital medicine, but the field's growth. Not so long ago, inpatient physicians looked like "internists without an office," explained Laurence Wellikson, FACP, the group's executive director.

"It became clear," he continued, "that the terms 'hospitalist' and 'hospital medicine' were being embraced by physicians and the media."

SHM's immediate past president, Mark V. Williams, FACP, a hospitalist at Emory University in Atlanta, said that the new name reflects hospital medicine's focus on teamwork. The organization plans to broaden its scope to include nonphysician members involved in hospital medicine practice, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, case managers, pharmacists and hospital administrators.

"Hospitalists will still be the leaders in care delivery," Dr. Williams said. "Our organization is going to evolve into the leading organization looking at care delivery in the hospital."

The new name also reflects changes in hospitalists' role as the specialty has grown. "Hospital medicine is more than an individual doctor treating an individual patient," said Dr. Wellikson. "Hospitalists need to be concerned about things like collecting data, thinking system-wide and making hospitals safer."

The NAIP announced last spring that it intended to change its name. To that end, it set up a task force that conducted focus groups and surveys.

While the group's members had no overwhelming preference, Dr. Wellikson said they gravitated toward the terms "hospital medicine" and "society." To some, "inpatient physician" meant anyone who practiced in a hospital setting, such as an emergency room physician.

To accompany its new name, SHM unveiled an updated Web site and plans to kick off a nationwide survey in an attempt to identify every hospitalist and hospital medicine program in the country. While no one knows exactly how many hospitalists are practicing today, Dr. Wellikson put the number at about 7,000.

Deborah Gesensway is a freelance writer in Glenside, Pa.

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