Q&A with Dr. Mina R. Kang, MD, FHM
Hospitalists play a key role in high-quality hospital care.
BY ROBIN HEFFLER / PHOTOGRAPHED BY PHILLIP GRAYBILL
Thirty years ago, a medical specialty focused on the treatment of hospitalized patients began to emerge. UC San Francisco’s Robert Wachter, MD, coined the term “hospitalist” to describe this specialty, which is now practiced in hospitals nationwide— often by physicians trained in internal medicine and who have served in hospital medicine fellowships. We talked to Mina R. Kang, MD, chief medical officer at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and medical director of the hospitalist program, about the role that hospitalists play in patient care. Dr. Kang leads a team of 14 physicians and a nurse practitioner—triple the number of hospitalists in the program three years ago. Certified as both an internist and a pediatrician, Dr. Kang has been on the medical staff since 2011 and has led the program since 2017.
WHAT ARE HOSPITALISTS AND WHY ARE THEY NEEDED?
Many people, even physicians, mistakenly believe hospitalists are just physicians who practice mainly in the hospital. But it’s not just a matter of where you see patients but how you concentrate your time and expertise. Hospitalists are coordinating inpatient care during a time when medicine is getting more complex. Patients in the hospital are sicker and are being discharged sooner. Traditionally, primary care doctors have seen patients in both the office and the hospital, but with their busy schedules it’s harder for them to do that now. Therefore, they increasingly reach out to hospitalists.
WHY ARE HOSPITALISTS IMPORTANT FOR PATIENT CARE AND SAFETY?
Hospitalists are trained to make sure patients are safely cared for in the complex hospital environment. As we only focus on hospital medicine, we become experts in getting everything done for our patients quickly and efficiently. For example, when we have patients with hip fractures, we know that getting them to the operating room as soon as possible will get them the best results. We also know which surgeons are available to do this surgery promptly. Because we are at the hospital 24/7, we are available to respond to any issues that come up with our patients. We are also uniquely qualified to lead important hospital quality and patient safety initiatives.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HOSPITALISTS?
Many patients have very close, longstanding relationships with their primary care doctors and may feel upset that their primary care doctor is not taking care of them while they are hospitalized. I always like to reassure patients that our hospitalists practice in close partnership with primary care doctors. At minimum, we communicate with primary care physicians at the time of patient admission, when anything major happens during the hospitalization, and at the time of discharge to make sure they are on the same page about what happened during the hospitalization. Additionally, we practice on the same electronic medical record system as many of our primary care physicians and can communicate with physicians through this electronic record.
WHY DID YOU BECOME A HOSPITALIST, AND WHAT DO YOU MOST ENJOY ABOUT IT?
I chose to become a hospitalist because I enjoy caring for patients in the hospital, coordinating complex care and forming relationships with patients and families while helping them through a difficult time. I really like having all my patients in one place and being able to visit them early, late or even multiple times a day, based on situational need. I also enjoy the relationships I have with my specialist colleagues as we work to take care of patients together in the hospital.
HOW HAS BEING A HOSPITALIST PREPARED YOU FOR YOUR NEW ROLE AS CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER?
I believe having practiced medicine in the hospital setting for over 10 years is my greatest asset as I move to my new role. Hospitalists have a deep knowledge of how hospitals work as well as how hospitals could work better to improve patient care. My experience with complex decision-making as it pertains to patient care and navigating difficult care conversations can now be used toward solving complex problems on a larger scale. I think the goal of a hospitalist and hospital CMO is the same. Ultimately, we both want highquality patient care in the hospital with a focus on patient comfort and efficiency.