New breed of physician treats patients only in hospitals

Norwich Bulletin

The walls of Dr. Jennifer Bellino’s office are somewhat bare.

Except for a few children’s drawings tacked up on a corkboard, a desk and a computer, most people probably wouldn’t even know it’s an office.

But the stark white walls aren’t disconcerting to Bellino’s patients, mostly because they never see them.

Though she’s an on-staff physician at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, she doesn’t have her own practice where she treats patients. In fact, unlike most of the doctors who see patients at Backus, she’s actually employed by the hospital.

Bellino is one of eight doctors on staff known as “hospitalists,” a new breed of physicians who specialize in inpatient care and exclusively treat patients who have been admitted to the hospital.

“We are very accessible, and at least one of us is here 24-7,” Bellino said. “It’s a very new concept, but the vast majority of people we treat are very satisfied and happy.”

While some primary care doctors still elect to do rounds and treat their patients when they’ve been admitted, others contract with hospitalists to care for their patients during their hospital stay.

Bellino said the most common misconception about hospitalists is they aren’t doctors. All, in fact, are physicians.

Backus has had a hospitalist program since 2003, but other hospitals have instituted them just recently. Windham Community Memorial Hospital in Willimantic announced the start of its program, which involves three physicians, late last month.

The program has had mixed results, because some patients insist a new doctor isn’t as familiar with their medical history as their primary care physician is, said Bob Peterson, vice president of operations at Windham Hospital. By the time most patients have been discharged, the same patients often have positive feedback about the program.
New kind of care

“This is a new model of inpatient care, and that’s not to say that it’s better or worse — it’s just different. We have some doctors who say when patients are admitted, ‘That’s my patient, and I’m going to tend to them.’ And that’s great. We welcome that. I won’t change my thinking on that.” Peterson said. “But it’s not that way for everyone.”

Peterson said all hospitalists are constantly in touch with a patient’s primary care physician until treatment is completed.

Contracting patient care out to hospitalists may seem attractive to physicians for a number of reasons, Peterson said. Doctors near the end of their career may not be eager to respond to late-night calls to the hospital, and may be able to focus on private practice better by leaving patient care in hospitalists’ hands.

The program also helps hospitals recruit younger doctors looking to maintain their lifestyle, Peterson said. Those with children can work in their private practice during the day and not have to worry about emergency calls to the hospital at night, he said.

He estimates 25 percent of the on-staff doctors contract patients to hospitalists, but said he expects that number to grow.

“If we didn’t have a program like this and another close hospital did, we may not be as effective recruiting those young doctors,” he said.

Hospitalists also play another important role in the hospital — tending to patients who are new to the area and don’t have primary care doctors.

Gelora Emanuel of Norwich moved to the area a few months ago, but had to make a trip to the emergency room last week after having complications with her diabetes.

After being admitted, Emanuel was under the care of hospitalists, including Bellino, and her condition was brought under control.

“It made me feel good to have a doctor here. I have no complaints about them at all,” she said. “It’s very helpful, actually.”
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