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“I am a primary care physician for the in-patient world,” said Craig Cole, MD, hospitalist for Kaiser Permanente members at UCHealth – Memorial Hospital. He explains that in the old model of in-patient care, there would not be a dedicated hospitalist, but rather a primary care doctor that would do rounds at the clinic and make a stop at the hospital at the end of the day. However, about 20 years ago, Drs. Lee Goldman and Robert Wachter coined the term “hospitalist” in a New England Journal of Medicine article. It was determined that having an internist or general medicine doctor in the hospital is a practical, useful and financially-savvy move.

“I can go back to see a patient two or three times if I need to, and check up on patients to see how they’re doing. I’m the point person for patients; and if they have any questions about anything at all, the nurses can call me to come down and explain everything,” said Cole. “In the hospital, patients see a lot of different nurses, different physical therapists, different specialists. That commotion can be very hard for them when they’re not feeling well. I can help bring clarity where there is confusion, and be a familiar face for the patients. And I tell them just call me Craig (rather than Dr. Cole), because that makes it a more personal interaction.”

Some questions Dr. Cole may ask his patients that he visits throughout the day are: How are you feeling? Are you feeling better or worse? Any new symptoms? Did you understand what the cardiologist (or other specialist) told you earlier? He reinforces again and again with the patient what their short and long term goals are. “I try to help empower them to be involved in the decision-making process, but also keep them informed about what’s going on,” he said.

Cole’s care for his patients extends far past their hospital stay. “Because of the EPIC system in Colorado that is so organized and contained, I set up all follow-up appointments for my patients before they leave the hospital and ensure that their primary care doctor receives discharge information, and is aware of what to check on. I also call them after they are discharged to see how they’re doing, if they went to their appointments, etc. When I take care of someone in the hospital, I feel responsible for their wellness. So, if six months down the line they can’t get an appointment, they can always contact me and I can help them navigate through the system.” Kaiser Permanente’s hospitalist team has been so efficient and beneficial for the patient, that readmission rates have been greatly reduced.

Cole sees a wide range of patients with a wide range of conditions. As is the nature of hospitals, people come in due to everything from strokes, heart attacks and seizures, to infections and pneumonia, to diabetes and high blood pressure. He’s really a Jack of all trades, and is one of the first people a Kaiser Permanente patient sees when admitted. “For me, if a patient goes home feeling better, that’s all the thanks I need. I am not driven by having to be at the top or having a plaque on the wall, the most important thing is that they know that I cared about them and was interested in getting them well. For me that is enough.”

And Cole has some tips to help avoid the hospital during the hot summer months. “I see a lot of patients in the summer months with heatstroke and exhaustion, which are different,” Cole said. “Heat exhaustion occurs when you are hot, sweat a lot, and do not drink enough to replace the lost fluids. Heatstroke is much more serious and can lead to problems with many different organs and can be life-threatening. To prevent these complications drink lots of water, avoid strenuous activity during hot weather, alternate water with electrolyte drinks, and wear light colored clothing and a hat.” It’s important to act fast is you or someone you are with has a bad reaction to the heat. “Get them to a cool place out of sunlight, remove excess clothing, spray or sponge their body with cold water (do not jump in a pool or bath), apply ice packs to their armpit, and drink fluids. Seek medical attention immediately if they have a fever or are acting confused, and call 911 immediately if they have a seizure,” Cole advises.

Cole has been a hospitalist with Kaiser Permanente for nearly two decades. A Colorado native, he grew in up Littleton, went to Littleton High School, started his undergraduate studies at University of Colorado in Boulder, went to medical school at Emory University in Atlanta, and completed his residency in Denver. While he was working in Georgia, he was the Chief of Quality Improvement of Northside Hospital with Kaiser Permanente. His love for hiking and skiing brought him back to Colorado Springs with his wife, who is a pediatrician. His relationship with Kaiser Permanente has a vibrant history. His Grandma was in the Kaiser Permanente system in the 1950s in California and his father was Executive Medical Director for the Colorado Permanente Medical Group before he retired in 2000.

“I kind of fell into medicine – I didn’t go to college thinking I’d be a doctor, even though my father was a doctor and mom was a nurse,” Cole said. “Then in college I began gravitating to it and developed a passion for taking care of people. I spent most of my time in the hospital and I enjoyed that area of practice more, which is why I chose to be a hospitalist. I like that I can spend 45 minutes to an hour with a patient if I need to, rather than being under the strict time constraints of a clinic.”

Cole chose to work with Kaiser Permanente because he believes that they have the best system out there, which has been proven year after year. “I want to do what is right for the patient and Kaiser Permanente has a great system that allows me to do that. Also, I like that primary care is their driving force, and they empower people to take care of themselves. The healthier a person is, the better off going they’re going to be in any system.” 

-  Craig Cole, MD, is a hospitalist with the state’s largest physician group – the Colorado Permanente Medical Group – which serves the 680,000 members of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.  To learn more about how Kaiser Permanente can help your family thrive, visit kp.org or call 1-888-681-7878.

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