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A HOSPITALIST-RUN MEDICAL SHORT-STAY UNIT (MSSU) was created at a university-affiliated teaching hospital in Montreal in 1989. Its primary aim was to provide efficient and high-quality care to patients requiring a brief stay in hospital for short-lived medical conditions. After evaluation in the emergency department (ED), patients judged to have acute conditions requiring a short hospital stay are admitted directly to the MSSU. Conversely, patients with more complex conditions requiring a longer stay in hospital are admitted to a clinical teaching unit (CTU). Care in the MSSU is provided by a rotating group of hospitalists. Ensuring the admission of appropriate patients during non-daytime hours was the main difficulty identified. Preliminary evaluation of the MSSU suggested that ED consultants were effective at selecting suitable patients for admission to the MSSU, because only 1 in 5 patients later required transfer to other hospital wards. The 5 most common MSSU discharge diagnoses were asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, urinary tract infection and cellulitis. MSSU patients had a shorter length of stay, lower rates of in-hospital complications and lower rates of readmission within 30 days of discharge compared with CTU patients. Our hospitalist-run MSSU appears to offer a workable system of health care delivery for patients with acute, self-limited illness requiring a brief stay in hospital. The MSSU appeared to promote the efficient use of hospital beds without compromising patient outcomes, however, further research is required to compare the efficiency and outcomes of care directly with that provided by the traditional CTU system.