Building Better Relationships With Hospitalists

A natural disconnect may exist between hospitalists and community physicians. Indeed, physical separation, busy schedules, and complex cases all conspire to make communication between these two groups difficult.

According to Win Whitcomb, MD, co-founder and past president of the Society of Hospital Medicine, systems such as value-based payment or shared electronic health records can help, but there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned relationship building. Here are some tips that may prove useful.

Set the Stage. Many patients are still unfamiliar with the hospitalist concept. Whitcomb recommends that community-based physicians talk with patients—particularly those with a high risk of hospitalization—ahead of time about how hospitalists and community-based physicians work as a team. “There’s already a trust relationship between physician and patient,” says Whitcomb. “The trick is to transfer that trust to the hospitalist.” A telephone check-in with hospitalized patients can reassure them that you’re still in the loop.

Keep Contact Info Up-to-Date. It sounds obvious, but Whitcomb says hospitalists do not always have up-to-date contact information for community-based physicians, including preferred office and cell phone numbers, secure email addresses, and current fax numbers.

Provide Hospitalists With Your Contact Requirements and Preferences. This step can be especially important for consulting specialists. Ask when an in-hospital consultation is necessary and when a next-business-day phone call will suffice. Also, although many physicians prefer telephone communication, email or fax may work better for routine matters. Whitcomb suggests developing a list of guidelines and distributing it or posting it on the hospitalist bulletin board.

Communicate Verbally for Challenging Situations. Clear communication is especially important when managing patients with complex illnesses or high readmission risks or when disagreeing about treatment approaches. Pick up the phone or stop by the hospital to speak with the hospitalist in person.

Create Opportunities for Interaction. “It’s really important to get to know each other,” notes Whitcomb. Make a point to stop by during rounds or regular hospitalist staff meetings. Attending a staff social or lunch-and-learn conducted by a hospitalist may seem like a luxury in an already-busy schedule, but the face-to-face conversations that occur at these events can improve communication—and patient care.