The specialty of hospital medicine emerged in the 1990s in response to a changing healthcare environment. Hospitals and insurance companies were trying to lower costs, and at the same time physicians were beginning to push back against the extremely long work hours they traditionally kept. Instead of paying every physician to be on-call all hours of the day for their patients at hospitals around the community, a service that was rarely used anyway, hospitals began to hire their own physicians and specialists to work exclusively at each building. These healthcare professionals treat patients on-site, providing care exclusively within their own hospital. Today, healthcare providers can specialize in hospital medicine, a specialty that focuses on the safety of patients as well as efficient management of hospital resources.
Hospital medicine is the name of the specialty, and it encompasses all providers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Doctors who specialize in hospital medicine are sometimes called hospitalists. Hospitalists usually specialize in a specific medical field, for example OB/GYN, neurology, psychology, or pediatrics. An OB/GYN hospitalist, for example, offers women's health care at a hospital. A pediatric hospitalist treats children at a hospital.
Hospital medicine offers many advantages not only for hospitals, but for patients and general physicians as well. It means there will always be a trained physician, awake and ready, at the hospital when needed. It increases teamwork and communication between the staff at a hospital if they work together daily and know each other well. It relieves pressure on other physicians who may have a demanding caseload in their office during the day or who work in rural areas far from the nearest hospital. As the use of complex medical technology increases, hospitalists become familiar with the systems in each building and can use it more effectively, increasing hospital safety and productivity.