Understanding the Role of an Attending Physician in Patient Care and Treatment

Understanding the Role of an Attending Physician in Patient Care and Treatment
Understanding the Role of an Attending Physician in Patient Care and Treatment

Attending physicians are at the top of the hierarchy in healthcare. Fully licensed and trained, attendings are experts in their field, and many take on multiple responsibilities, including teaching, training residents, and serving on administrative committees.

Yet their main responsibility is to provide top-quality patient care. 

Attending physicians are instrumental in diagnosing, creating treatment plans, and supervising how patient care is provided. Here’s a look into more of their key duties, plus some tips on how to protect and further your career.

Document the Reasons and Goals for Admission

The attending physician is responsible for overseeing the entire patient care plan, and that starts with understanding the reason for admission to the hospital or facility. With that information, they then order tests and/or medical procedures, which are key to providing the patient with the proper diagnosis.

Once the attending obtains the results of the required tests, they can put together a treatment plan.

Determine the Proper Treatment Plan

It is up to the attending physician to determine the best and most effective treatment for each patient. Every patient is unique, and the attending must understand each one’s unique needs and concerns.

The attending physician has the final say on all care provided to the patient, but they don’t provide all of the care directly. In many cases, medical residents and fellows in training provide day-to-day patient care.

Review Each Patient’s Care Every Day

While residents may check in on patients multiple times per day, the attending will supervise each interaction and review each patient’s course of treatment every day. Even if they do not see the patient personally, they review every interaction to make sure that the proper level of care is being provided.

Patients admitted with routine and easily manageable conditions may never see the attending, while those with more complex cases may see the attending on a daily basis.

Train Medical Residents

It is the job of the attending physician to train medical residents and fellows. That includes instructing them on how to properly diagnose patients, how to perform certain medical procedures, and how to provide top-quality clinical care.

This is a crucial part of the job, as it strengthens the incoming physician workforce of younger doctors. 

Supervise Medical Residents

In addition to training residents, attending physicians supervise everything they do. That includes ensuring that they are checking in on patients routinely, that they are documenting the treatment properly, and that they are providing each patient the best possible care.

Review all Progress Notes on Patient Care

Attending physicians review and document everything about the patient’s visit, from the time they’re admitted to the hospital until the moment they’re discharged. This documentation is key in ensuring that the proper treatment plan is followed. It also affects how patients’ insurance companies are billed for the treatment provided.

Coordinate Discharge Plans

It’s common for patients to need follow-up care, even after hospital discharge. Attending physicians coordinate the discharge, make sure that the patient is ready to go home, and make referrals for follow-up care if needed. 

A patient cannot be discharged without the consent of the attending, so even if they don’t directly interact with patients during their stay, they play a critical role in the process from start to finish.

Three Tips for Aspiring Attending Physicians

Depending on your specialty, it can take up to 14 years to become an attending physician. So it’s important that you take a few crucial steps to protect the career you’ve worked so hard to attain. Here are three things to keep in mind, no matter what point you’re at in your career.

Protect Yourself With Disability Insurance

Disability insurance is income protection insurance. It allows you to collect a portion of your paycheck even if you are too ill or injured to work. Check out this article from LeverageRX to learn more about disability insurance and the key things to look for in a policy. 

Cover Yourself With Malpractice Insurance

According to a recent AMA study, about one-third of physicians report that they have been sued for malpractice at some point throughout their careers. Protecting yourself with malpractice insurance is essential, no matter where you work or what type of healthcare you provide.

Develop Your Leadership Skills Early On

Attending physicians are leaders, so work on developing your leadership skills early on in your career. That includes improving your communication skills, organizational skills, and knowing how to inspire younger physicians to want to develop their own skills. 

In Conclusion

Working as an attending physician can be extremely rewarding, both in terms of providing top-quality care and training the next generation of physicians.

By passing your knowledge onto the younger generation of incoming doctors, attendings can have a significant impact on healthcare for decades, long beyond the duration of their own careers.