As hospitalized patients are increasingly cared for by physicians who are not their primary care physicians, discontinuity of care occurs when patients are sickest. We sought to determine hospitalized patients' knowledge, preferences, and satisfaction regarding the involvement of their primary care physician in their inpatient care. We conducted a cross-sectional questionnaire of 73 patients cared for by inpatient physicians and 12 relatives of such patients on an inpatient general medical service in a teaching hospital. Eligible patients were those admitted to the care of an inpatient physician other than their primary care provider (PCP), who stayed in the hospital for >1 day. If these patients were too sick to be interviewed or did not speak English, a relative knowledgeable about their medical care was interviewed. In all, 87% of patients had a primary care physician. Of these, 33% had some contact with their PCP while in the hospital. A total of 66% of respondents were satisfied with the contact they or their relative had with the PCP. Some 61% of respondents knew that communication had occurred between the inpatient and PCP. Respondents generally had positive opinions of their hospital care. However, most agreed that patients receive better care from and have more trust in physicians they have known for a long time, compared with those they have just met. About 50% of respondents believed that a PCP (rather than a separate hospital physician) should inform a patient of a serious diagnosis or discuss choices between medical and surgical management. Patients under the care of an inpatient physician want contact with their PCP and want good communication between the PCP and hospital doctors. Systems should be established to facilitate communication between inpatient and primary care physicians, and between PCPs and patients.