Background: For hospitalists who are at the forefront of inpatient general medicine, clear communication is crucial to a successful provider-patient relationship and optimal care delivery. Uncertainty around provider roles and medical terminology can negatively impact patients’ experience and understanding of their care. Therefore, the aim of this study is to assess patients’ understanding of the hospitalist role and other frequently used medical terms to help ensure effective communication.

Methods: This project is part of a larger ongoing study at two urban academic medical centers exploring patients’ understanding of their care and care teams during hospitalization. Patients admitted to a hospital medicine service for at least three days were randomly selected and administered surveys in-person or by phone. The survey included the following 2 questions: 1) “What is your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a hospitalist?” and 2) “Which of the following terms have you heard in the hospital but are hard for you to understand or don’t make sense in the way they are used here?” This second question was accompanied by a list of 13 medical terms for patients to select. For the first question, free text responses were analyzed using content analysis, and the second question was summarized using descriptive statistics.

Results: A total of 163 patients have been surveyed to date, with all 163 patients completing question one and 147 patients completing question two. The respondents had an average age of 60.1 ± 17.3 years and 53% were female. Sixty-six percent identified as White, 18% as Black, 9% as Asian, and 1% as American Indian or Alaska Native; 7% identified as Hispanic/LatinX. Their average length of stay was 10.0 ± 7.7 days. For the question about understanding the roles and responsibilities of a hospitalist, 76 (47%) patients either had never heard the term hospitalist or expressed uncertainty around the roles and responsibilities (Table 1). The remaining 87 (53%) patients showed a varied understanding of the hospitalist role. Their responses most commonly involved the following 3 themes: providing care and improving patient wellbeing, acting as the main doctor or person in charge, and/or serving as a coordinator or liaison between healthcare providers and patients. For the question about other medical terminology, patients most frequently reported misunderstanding the term “NPO” (45%), followed by “PA” (26%), “Attending” (25%), “Comfort Care” (23%), “Rounds” (22%), and “Resident” (21%) (Table 2).

Conclusions: Many patients admitted to a hospital medicine service do not have a clear understanding of common medical terms used in the hospital, with the most frequently misunderstood term being “hospitalist.” Given the central role hospitalists play in inpatient care, efforts are needed to enhance communication and ensure all patients understand the hospitalist role and medical terminology shared with them.

IMAGE 1: Table 1. Themes of Patient Responses to “What is your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a hospitalist?”

IMAGE 2: Table 2. Unfamiliar Medical Terminology