In the fall of 1996, the telephone began ringing nonstop in Dr. Robert Wachter's office at the University of California San Francisco. Though relatively new to the school's department of medicine, Wachter and his supervisor at the time, Dr. Lee Goldman, had just co-authored a widely read article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Their editorial predicted a boom in hospitalists—a term they coined to describe a new medical specialty emerging as facilities across the country sought greater efficiency in the increasingly costly healthcare landscape. The hospitalist model challenged many existing principles of patient-care management, and the looming shift struck a chord among providers.
Wachter was surprised by the volume of calls he received from physicians and hospitals, all expressing varying levels of curiosity or concern. But the most memorable call came from his father, a retired business owner who had just finished a tennis match with a physician in Florida.
“I knew my dad was proud of me,” recalled Wachter, who beamed as his father announced about his tennis partner: “He'd heard of you!” into the receiver. But then, after a short pause, his dad added with a little less enthusiasm, “He hates you.”