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A need for comprehensivists articulated

CHICAGO, April 29 (UPI) -- A new specialist -- the comprehensive care physician -- is needed to care for the seriously ill, U.S. researchers suggest.

David O. Meltzer, an associate professor of medicine and director of the University of Chicago's Center for Health and the Social Sciences, says as the number of hospitalized patients declined, primary care physicians saw their travel costs increase compared with the small number of hospitalized patients.

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As fewer doctors visited patients in the hospital, it created the need for the hospitalist specialty -- a doctor hired by the hospital to coordinate care of patients while they are in the hospital.

"Since 1996, hospitalists have become the fastest-growing medical specialty in the United States, providing more than one-third of all general medical care in the United States," Meltzer wrote in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

However, the use of hospitalists has the potential of creating communication problems because these specialists do not always know the full medical histories of their patients or their primary care physicians.

The establishment of a comprehensive care physician, or comprehensivist -- doctors who would work both in a hospital and an attached clinic and attend to those at greatest risk of hospitalization -- is the solution, Meltzer contends.

The comprehensivist concept is new to the United States, but it is similar to approaches in Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Meltzer told a conference organized by the Milton Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago.

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