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Coordination, Switching Costs and the Division of Labor in General Medicine: An Economic Explanation for the Emergence of Hospitalists in the United States

General medical care in the United States has historically been provided by physicians who care for their patients in both ambulatory and hospital settings. Care is now increasingly divided between physicians specializing in hospital care (hospitalists) and ambulatory-based care primary care physicians. We develop and find strong empirical support for a theoretical model of the division of labor in general medicine that views the use of hospitalists as balancing the costs of coordinating care across physicians in the hospitalist model against physicians’ costs switching between ambulatory and hospital settings in the traditional model. Our findings suggest opportunities to improve care.

Authors: 
David O. Meltzer, University of Chicago
Jeanette W. Chung, University of Chicago Department of Medicine
Publication Date: 
May, 2010
JEL Classification: 
Publication Type: 
Institution: 
NBER
Document Number: 
16040