Mini Medical School

February 4, 2021

Members of the Tuscaloosa community have the opportunity to learn about trends in medicine and health and advances in medicine and research as part of the Mini Medical School program. Mini Medical School is a lecture series for The University of Alabama’s OLLI program provided by University Medical Center physicians. Eight lectures are presented each fall semester and eight during the spring semester. The lecture series is usually held at the Bryant Conference Center, but this semester is being held virtually because of COVID-19. OLLI, short for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a member-led program catering to those age 50 and older. Mini Medical School is open to OLLI registrants and the public.

In January, OLLI members heard presentations about:

What is a Hospitalist?

Simply put, a hospitalist is a physician who only practices in the hospital, said Dr. Charles B. Lehman.

Lehman is one of two physicians who founded University Hospitalist Group in 2003. Today, the group, which is operated by UMC, has 18 physicians and three nurse practitioners and practices at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa.

The practice of hospital medicine grew out of the challenges faced by physicians juggling an office-based practice and making hospital rounds, sometimes several times a day. “It’s hard to practice both in the office and hospital at the same time,” Lehman said.

Today, many primary-care physician practices have arrangements with hospitalist groups. When patients are admitted to the hospital, they are cared for during their hospital stay by their physician’s hospitalist group, although patients can choose another hospitalist group practicing at the hospital if they wish.

Hospitalists admit patients and make rounds to care for patients during their hospitalization.

“With University Hospitalist Group, patients can expect to see the same hospitalists. We try to keep the same patient with the same hospitalist,” Lehman said.

He said separating in-patient care and out-patient care has made things more efficient. But Lehman stressed that hospitalists don’t replace patients’ primary-care physicians. “The biggest think we do is communicate, with primary-care physicians and with specialists. We can get patients’ medical history by talking to their primary-care physicians, and we can confer with specialists they might have to see. We’re efficiently taking care of patients and getting them back to their doctors.”

The benefit for patients is that they have a doctor there for them at the hospital 24/7 – “they have someone there all the time,” Lehman said. When a patient’s lab results are ready, or a patient has questions or isn’t doing well, “they’re not having to track me down at my office. We can take care of it immediately.”

Lehman said that communication continues through the discharge process. “I always call their primary-care provider to let them know and to provide an update. Anything we can do to make the transition more seamless is worth doing,” he said.”

Vaccines for Seniors

Vaccines are the best tool we have for preventing disease and illness, and they are even more important during the COPVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster.

Foster began her presentation describing a health crisis in the 1950s that many in the audience remembered: an outbreak of polio. Some audience members recalled receiving a vaccine at school – orally, by injection and via sugar cubes. “Younger generations are likely experiencing their first crisis with COVID-19,” Foster said.

Vaccines work by stimulating an individual’s immune system to develop an adaptive immunity to a pathogen, she said. “When we vaccinate, it provides protection. Vaccinations are the most effective of prevention tools. They’ve helped eradicate polio, smallpox and measles.”

Smallpox was mostly likely the first disease for which a vaccine was developed, in 1796 by English physician Edward Jenner, Foster said. Smallpox was a contagious and deadly disease that when finally eradicated in 1979 had killed an estimated 300 million to 500 million people worldwide.

Foster said it’s important for older individuals to be vaccinated against flu, pneumonia, tetanus and shingles. “It’s really important for seniors to get flu and pneumonia vaccines because of the respiratory issues associated with COVID-19,” she said.

Foster also encourages older individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine. There are two vaccines available in the United States – the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine. Both require two doses and are approximately 95% effective.

But even with the vaccine, “We still need to take those public health measures – wear masks, social distance and wash your hands often,” Foster said.