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Social Science Insights Into Improving Workforce Effectiveness: Examples From the Developing Field of Hospital Medicine

Meltzer, David O. MD, PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: November 2009 - Volume 15 - Issue 6 - p S18–S23
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3181b3a3f8

The translation of insights from the biological sciences to medical practice requires actions by clinicians, patients, and others involved in healthcare. This makes insights from the social sciences critical to improving medical care. The recent emergence of hospitalists in the United States— physicians who specialize in the care of hospitalized patients—is an important innovation in how biomedical knowledge is translated into clinical care. This article discusses work by my colleagues and me examining the emergence of the hospitalist model by using the tools of the social sciences to understand whether, and under what conditions, hospitalists reduce the costs and improve the outcomes of care, and developing tools to measure and improve the quality of hospital care. The social scientific concepts and tools that we have drawn upon reflect a wide range of the social sciences, including economics, sociology, psychology, and related fields, such as clinical epidemiology and program evaluation. Many of these issues we have examined, including how professionals learn from experience and from their peers and how to measure and reward productivity, have important potential to address challenges faced by the public health workforce and reflect the broad potential for insights from the social sciences to inform public health workforce policy.

This article describes the development of a new profession within medicine and highlights lessons learned relevant to public health.

Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine and Economics and the Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. He is Chief of the Section of Hospital Medicine and Director of the Center for Health and the Social Sciences.

Corresponding Author: David O. Meltzer, MD, PhD, The University of Chicago, 5841 S Maryland MC 2007, Chicago, IL 60637 (

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.