A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment with specialized staff and equipment. The best-known type of hospital is the general hospital, which has an emergency department. A district hospital typically is the major health care facility in its region, with large numbers of beds for intensive care and long-term care. Specialised hospitals include trauma centres, rehabilitation hospitals, children's hospitals, seniors' (geriatric) hospitals, and hospitals for dealing with specific medical needs such as psychiatric problems (see psychiatric hospital) and certain disease categories. Specialised hospitals can help reduce health care costs compared to general hospitals.
A teaching hospital combines assistance to people with teaching to medical students and nurses. The medical facility smaller than a hospital is generally called a clinic. Hospitals have a range of departments (e.g.: surgery and urgent care) and specialist units such as cardiology. Some hospitals have outpatient departments and some have chronic treatment units. Common support units include a pharmacy, pathology, and radiology.
Hospitals are usually funded by the public sector, by health organisations (for profit or nonprofit), by health insurance companies, or by charities, including direct charitable donations. Historically, hospitals were often founded and funded by religious orders or charitable individuals and leaders.
Today, hospitals are largely staffed by professional physicians, surgeons, and nurses, whereas in the past, this work was usually performed by the founding religious orders or by volunteers. However, there are various Catholic religious orders, such as the Alexians and the Bon Secours Sisters that still focus on hospital ministry today, as well as several other Christian denominations, including the Methodists and Lutherans, which run hospitals. In accordance with the original meaning of the word, hospitals were originally "places of hospitality", and this meaning is still preserved in the names of some institutions such as the Royal Hospital Chelsea, established in 1681 as a retirement and nursing home for veteran soldiers.
During the Middle Ages hospitals served different functions from modern institutions, as almshouses for the poor, hostels for pilgrims, or hospital schools. The word hospital comes from the Latin hospes, signifying a stranger or foreigner, hence a guest. Another noun derived from this, hospitium came to signify hospitality, that is the relation between guest and shelterer, hospitality, friendliness, and hospitable reception. By metonymy the Latin word then came to mean a guest-chamber, guest's lodging, an inn.
Hospes is thus the root for the English words host (where the p was dropped for convenience of pronunciation) hospitality, hospice, hostel and hotel. The latter modern word derives from Latin via the ancient French romance word hostel, which developed a silent s, which letter was eventually removed from the word, the loss of which is signified by a circumflex in the modern French word hôtel. The German word 'Spital' shares similar roots.
Grammar of the word differs slightly depending on the dialect. In the United States, hospital usually requires an article; in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the word normally is used without an article when it is the object of a preposition and when referring to a patient ("in/to the hospital" vs. "in/to hospital"); in Canada, both uses are found.
Some patients go to a hospital just for diagnosis, treatment, or therapy and then leave ('outpatients') without staying overnight; while others are 'admitted' and stay overnight or for several days or weeks or months ('inpatients'). Hospitals usually are distinguished from other types of medical facilities by their ability to admit and care for inpatients whilst the others often are described as clinics.
The best-known type of hospital is the general hospital, which is set up to deal with many kinds of disease and injury, and normally has an emergency department to deal with immediate and urgent threats to health. Larger cities may have several hospitals of varying sizes and facilities. Some hospitals, especially in the United States and Canada, have their own ambulance service.
A district hospital typically is the major health care facility in its region, with large numbers of beds for intensive care and long-term care.
In California, "District hospital" refers specifically to a class of healthcare facility created shortly after World War II to address a shortage of hospital beds in many local communities. Even today, District hospitals are the sole public hospitals in 19 of California's counties, and are the sole locally-accessible hospital within 9 additional counties in which one or more other hospitals are present at substantial distance from a local community. Twenty-eight of California's rural hospitals and 20 of its critical-access hospitals are District hospitals.
California's District hospitals are formed by local municipalities, have Boards that are individually elected by their local communities, and exist to serve local needs. They are a particularly important provider of healthcare to uninsured patients and patients with Medi-Cal (which is California's Medicaid program, serving low-income persons, some senior citizens, persons with disabilities, children in foster care, and pregnant women). In 2012, District hospitals provided $54 million in uncompensated care in California.
Types of specialised hospitals include trauma centres, rehabilitation hospitals, children's hospitals, seniors' (geriatric) hospitals, and hospitals for dealing with specific medical needs such as psychiatric problems (see psychiatric hospital), certain disease categories such as cardiac, oncology, or orthopedic problems, and so forth. In Germany specialised hospitals are called Fachkrankenhaus; an example is Fachkrankenhaus Coswig (thoracic surgery).
A hospital may be a single building or a number of buildings on a campus. Many hospitals with pre-twentieth-century origins began as one building and evolved into campuses. Some hospitals are affiliated with universities for medical research and the training of medical personnel such as physicians and nurses, often called teaching hospitals. Worldwide, most hospitals are run on a nonprofit basis by governments or charities. There are however a few exceptions, e.g. China, where government funding only constitutes 10% of income of hospitals. (need citation here. Chinese sources seem conflicted about the for-profit/non-profit ratio of hospitals in China)
Specialised hospitals can help reduce health care costs compared to general hospitals. For example, Narayana Hrudayalaya's Bangalore cardiac unit, which is specialised in cardiac surgery, allows for significantly greater number of patients. It has 3000 beds (more than 20 times the average American hospital) and in pediatric heart surgery alone, it performs 3000 heart operations annually, making it by far the largest such facility in the world. Surgeons are paid on a fixed salary instead of per operation, thus the costs to the hospital drops when the number of procedures increases, taking advantage of economies of scale. Additionally, it is argued that costs go down as all its specialists become efficient by working on one "production line" procedure.
A teaching hospital combines assistance to people with teaching to medical students and nurses and often is linked to a medical school, nursing school or university. In some countries like UK exists the clinical attachment system that is defined as a period of time when a doctor is attached to a named supervisor in a clinical unit, with the broad aims of observing clinical practice in the UK and the role of doctors and other healthcare professionals in the National Health Service (NHS).
The medical facility smaller than a hospital is generally called a clinic, and often is run by a government agency for health services or a private partnership of physicians (in nations where private practise is allowed). Clinics generally provide only outpatient services.
Hospitals consist of departments, traditionally called wards, especially when they have beds for inpatients, when they are sometimes also called inpatient wards. Hospitals may have acute services such as an emergency department or specialist trauma centre, burn unit, surgery, or urgent care. These may then be backed up by more specialist units such as the following:
In addition, there is the department of nursing, often headed by a chief nursing officer or director of nursing. This department is responsible for the administration of professional nursing practice, research, and policy for the hospital. Nursing permeates every part of a hospital. Many units or wards have both a nursing and a medical director that serve as administrators for their respective disciplines within that specialty. For example, in an intensive care nursery, the director of neonatology is responsible for the medical staff and medical care while the nursing manager/director for the intensive care nursery is responsible for all of the nurses and nursing care in that unit/ward.
Some hospitals have outpatient departments and some have chronic treatment units such as behavioral health services, dentistry, dermatology, psychiatric ward, rehabilitation services, and physical therapy.
Common support units include a dispensary or pharmacy, pathology, and radiology. On the non-medical side, there often are medical records departments, release of information departments, information management (aka IM, IT or IS), clinical engineering (aka biomed), facilities management, plant ops (operations, also known as maintenance), dining services, and security departments.
The earliest documented institutions aiming to provide cures were ancient Egyptian temples. In ancient Greece, temples dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius, known as Asclepieia functioned as centres of medical advice, prognosis, and healing. Asclepeia provided carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing and fulfilled several of the requirements of institutions created for healing. Under his Roman name Æsculapius, he was provided with a temple (291 B.C.) on an island in the Tiber in Rome, where similar rites were performed.
Institutions created specifically to care for the ill also appeared early in India. Fa Xian, a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled across India ca. A.D. 400, recorded in his travelogue that: The heads of the Vaisya [merchant] families in them [all the kingdoms of north India] establish in the cities houses for dispensing charity and medicine. All the poor and destitute in the country, orphans, widowers, and childless men, maimed people and cripples, and all who are diseased, go to those houses, and are provided with every kind of help, and doctors examine their diseases. They get the food and medicines which their cases require, and are made to feel at ease; and when they are better, they go away of themselves.
The earliest surviving encyclopaedia of medicine in Sanskrit is the Charakasamhita (Compendium of Charaka). This text, which describes the building of a hospital is dated by Dominik Wujastyk of the University College London from the period between 100 B.C. and A.D. 150. According to Dr. Wujastyk, the description by Fa Xian is one of the earliest accounts of a civic hospital system anywhere in the world and, coupled with Caraka's description of how a clinic should be equipped, suggests that India may have been the first part of the world to have evolved an organised cosmopolitan system of institutionally-based medical provision.
According to the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty, written in the sixth century A.D., King Pandukabhaya of Sri Lanka (reigned 437 B.C. to 367 B.C.) had lying-in-homes and hospitals (Sivikasotthi-Sala) built in various parts of the country. This is the earliest documentary evidence we have of institutions specifically dedicated to the care of the sick anywhere in the world. Mihintale Hospital is the oldest in the world. Ruins of ancient hospitals in Sri Lanka are still in existence in Mihintale, Anuradhapura, and Medirigiriya.
The Romans constructed buildings called valetudinaria for the care of sick slaves, gladiators, and soldiers around 100 B.C., and many were identified by later archaeology. While their existence is considered proven, there is some doubt as to whether they were as widespread as was once thought, as many were identified only according to the layout of building remains, and not by means of surviving records or finds of medical tools.
The declaration of Christianity as an accepted religion in the Roman Empire drove an expansion of the provision of care. Following the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 construction of a hospital in every cathedral town was begun. Among the earliest were those built by the physician Saint Sampson in Constantinople and by Basil, bishop of Caesarea in modern-day Turkey. Called the "Basilias", the latter resembled a city and included housing for doctors and nurses and separate buildings for various classes of patients. There was a separate section for lepers. Some hospitals maintained libraries and training programmes, and doctors compiled their medical and pharmacological studies in manuscripts. Thus in-patient medical care in the sense of what we today consider a hospital, was an invention driven by Christian mercy and Byzantine innovation. Byzantine hospital staff included the Chief Physician (archiatroi), professional nurses (hypourgoi) and the orderlies (hyperetai). By the twelfth century, Constantinople had two well-organised hospitals, staffed by doctors who were both male and female. Facilities included systematic treatment procedures and specialised wards for various diseases.
A hospital and medical training centre also existed at Gundeshapur. The city of Gundeshapur was founded in A.D. 271 by the Sasanian king Shapur I. It was one of the major cities in Khuzestan province of the Persian empire in what is today Iran. A large percentage of the population were Syriacs, most of whom were Christians. Under the rule of Khusraw I, refuge was granted to Greek Nestorian Christian philosophers including the scholars of the Persian School of Edessa (Urfa)(also called the Academy of Athens), a Christian theological and medical university. These scholars made their way to Gundeshapur in A.D. 529 following the closing of the academy by Emperor Justinian. They were engaged in medical sciences and initiated the first translation projects of medical texts. The arrival of these medical practitioners from Edessa marks the beginning of the hospital and medical centre at Gundeshapur. It included a medical school and hospital (bimaristan), a pharmacology laboratory, a translation house, a library and an observatory. Indian doctors also contributed to the school at Gundeshapur, most notably the medical researcher Mankah. Later after Islamic invasion, the writings of Mankah and of the Indian doctor Sustura were translated into Arabic at Baghdad.
In the ninth and tenth centuries the hospital in Baghdad employed twenty-five staff physicians and had separate wards for different conditions. The Al-Qairawan hospital and mosque, in Tunisia, were built under the Aghlabid rule in 830 and was simple, but adequately equipped with halls organised into waiting rooms, a mosque, and a special bath. The first hospital in Egypt was opened in 872 and thereafter public hospitals sprang up all over the empire from Islamic Spain and the Maghrib to Persia. The first Islamic psychiatric hospital opened in Baghdad in 705. Many other Islamic hospitals also often had their own wards dedicated to mental health.
In contrast to medieval Europe, medical school under Islam did not have faculties and did not develop a system of academic evaluation and certification
The Romans first introduced hospitals to Britain during the early Anglo-Saxon period. During this period, hospitals were mainly confined to the domestic household or existed as small, military hospitals with the function of caring to the sick, travellers, and of the long-term infirm. More formal hospital institutions came from the advent of Christianity in A.D. 597 :17 During the late Saxon period, monasteries, nunneries, and hospitals functioned mainly as a site of charity to the poor. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, hospitals are found to be autonomous, freestanding institutions. They dispensed alms and some medicine, and were generously endowed by the nobility and gentry who counted on them for spiritual rewards after death. In time, hospitals became popular charitable houses that were distinct from both English monasteries and French hospitals.
The primary function of medieval hospitals was to worship to God. Most hospitals contained one chapel, at least one clergyman, and inmates that were expected to help with prayer. Worship was often a higher priority than care and was a large part of hospital life until and long after the Reformation. Worship in medieval hospitals served as a way of alleviating ailments of the sick and insuring their salvation when relief from sickness could not be achieved.
The secondary function of medieval hospitals was charity to the poor, sick, and travellers. Charity provided by hospitals surfaced in different ways, including long-term maintenance of the infirm, medium-term care of the sick, short-term hospitality to travellers, and regular distribution of alms to the poor.:58 Though these were general acts of charity among medieval hospitals, the degree of charity was variable. For example, some institutions that perceived themselves mainly as a religious house or place of hospitality turned away the sick or dying in fear that difficult healthcare will distract from worship. Others, however, such as St. James of Northallerton, St. Giles of Norwich, and St. Leonard of York, contained specific ordinances stating they must cater to the sick and that "all who entered with ill health should be allowed to stay until they recovered or died".:58
The tertiary function of medieval hospitals was to support education and learning. Originally, hospitals educated chaplains and priestly brothers in literacy and history; however, by the 13th century, some hospitals became involved in the education of impoverished boys and young adults. Soon after, hospitals began to provide food and shelter for scholars within the hospital in return for helping with chapel worship.:65
Three well-documented medieval European hospitals are St. Giles in Norwich, St. Anthony's in London, and St. Leonards in York. St. Giles, along with St. Anthony's and St. Leonards, were open ward hospitals that cared for the poor and sick in three of medieval England's largest cities.:23 The study of these three hospitals can provide insight into the diet, medical care, cleanliness and daily life in a medieval hospital of Europe.
The first prominent Islamic hospital was founded in Damascus, Syria in around 707 with assistance from Christians. However most agree that the establishment at Baghdad was the most influential; it opened during the Abbasid Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century. The bimaristan (medical school) and bayt al-hikmah (house of wisdom) were established by professors and graduates from Gundeshapur and was first headed by the Christian physician Jibrael ibn Bukhtishu from Gundeshapur and later by Islamic physicians.
Discrepancies exist among sources regarding the founding of St. Giles of Norwich, or the "Great Hospital" as it is known today. Some sources maintain that it was founded in 1246.:65:140  Other sources state that it was founded in 1249.:23 Though the date may be debatable, it seems agreed upon that The Great Hospital was founded by Walter Suffield, a Bishop known to be very liberal to the poor especially in the city of Norwich. St Giles provided thirty beds and maintained within its ten-acre precinct, many meadows courtyards, ponds, and fruit trees until the late fifteenth century.:23, 34 The hospital cultivated many productive gardens abundant in apples, leeks, garlic, onions and honey. The gardens were so productive that surplus goods were sold on the open market. St Giles of Norwich owned six manors and advowson of eleven churches.:34
St Giles was unique in that food was provided for children who were getting free education elsewhere.:27 It is also noted that St Giles arranged for seven poor scholars to receive board at the hospital during their term at Norwich School.:65 Accommodations of early medieval hospitals were frequently communal. For example, in St Giles, the master and brothers ate in the common hall while sisters ate by themselves.:90 St Giles hospital was a complex building that housed a community of clergy with cloister and residential accommodation, a hospital and a parish church. St Giles was also wealthy enough to maintain its own kitchen and staff. This allowed poor men to receive a dish of meat, fish, eggs or cheese in addition to the customary daily ration of bread and drink.:122
St. Anthony's was erected in the thirteenth century (some time before 1254), in the heart of London on Threadneedle Street, atop the less than ideal site of a Jewish synagogue.:43,88 :23 The chapel of St. Anthony's was built in 1310 without permission of the bishop of London. To prevents its degradation, the hospital petitioned for a chapel on the bishops terms.:88 Unlike St. Giles, there was insufficient land at St. Anthony's, London, for recreation or food production. As a result, herbs or 'erbys' and vegetables had to be bought on a daily basis for consumption by the entire community.:178 Accounts of foreign expenses at St. Anthony's also show the purchase of various spices, often with intrinsic medicinal qualities that could alter the level of heat and moisture within the body. Some of the spices bought include, saffron, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, lavender, pepper and mustard.:35 Interestingly, the amount spent on herbs, produce, and spices were far surpassed by the amount spent on fish and meat. According to quarterly expenditure reports, fifty-eight percent of the quarterly budget was spent on meat, thirty-four percent on fish, three percent on pottage, two percent on dairy, one percent herbs and one percent on eggs.:33 The unusually detailed records of diet and expenditures at St. Anthony's have revealed that the diet of the clerical establishment ('the hall') and the diets of the almsmen, patients and children ('the hospital') were quite different and class-based.:179 During a typical week, "the entire community shared dishes of pottage, veal, mutton and eggs; the hall alone consumed pork, ribs of roast beef, duck, fresh salmon and eels; and the hospital was supplied with mutton, plaice and haddock.":41 It is clear that the hall, or more wealthy, enjoyed extravagant meals of meat and fish, while the hospital, the patients and the poor, were fed simpler and cheaper food.
In addition to its reputation of spending lavishly on food, St. Anthony's was famous for its grammar school, choir and pigs, which roamed freely among the streets identified by bells.:23 Pigs on sale in London, which were considered by officials to be unfit for food were handed over to St. Anthony's. The pigs were fed through charity or by scavenging and later, when their condition improved, they were then taken by the hospital for use as food for the poor or sick.:122
As mentioned, medieval hospitals became concerned in education and in the feeding and housing of students as early as the thirteenth century. In 1441, John Carpenter, the master of St. Anthony London, was able to finance a grammar school whose teachings were without fees to any student. This was the first source of free education in London and remained one of London's leading schools for one hundred years following its founding.:144
In 1449, St. Anthony's received a handsome legacy for the support of a clerk to train scholars in both polyphony and plainsong. St. Anthony's became so famous for its choir that in 1469, the royal minstrels set up a fraternity at the hospital so they may also study music.:125
St Leonard's was one on England's largest and richest hospitals with a primary purpose of caring for the poor, the sick, the old and infirm.:24 It maintained 200 beds and in its prosperous days, "maintained up to eighteen clergy, 16 sister and female servants, 30 choristers, 10 private boarders (corrodarians) and between 144 and 240 poor sick people.":36 Additionally, during Easter of 1370, records show accommodation of 224 sick and poor in the infirmary and 23 children in the orphanage.:156
The records of St Leonard provide the best details of daily hospital worship and patient life. In 1249, for example, matins and lauds were said in the morning hours of darkness, followed by mass of the Virgin Mary held by members of the clergy. The "lesser hours and mass of the day were said at mid-morning, vespers in the afternoon and compline in the early evening after supper." :50, 52 Sisters at St. Leonard's were instructed to feed the poor and the sick, wash them, and lead them around the grounds.:43 Although the food given to the sick were the simple, and often quite cheap, daily provisions, sisters were allowed to distribute special food if they were very ill.:62
At St Leonard's, charity and care for the sick was not only given to inmates of the hospitals, but also to the poor in other neighboring institutions as well as inmates of local leper houses.:63 Additionally, one or two of the chaplains at St Leonard's were instructed to "minister spiritually to the poor by speaking consoling words, hearing confessions, and administering the sacraments".:80
In Europe the medieval concept of Christian care evolved during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries into a secular one. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 by King Henry VIII the church abruptly ceased to be the supporter of hospitals, and only by direct petition from the citizens of London, were the hospitals St Bartholomew's, St Thomas's and St Mary of Bethlehem's (Bedlam) endowed directly by the crown; this was the first instance of secular support being provided for medical institutions.
The voluntary hospital movement began in the early 18th century, with hospitals being founded in London by the 1720s, including Westminster Hospital (1719) promoted by the private bank C. Hoare & Co and Guy's Hospital (1724) funded from the bequest of the wealthy merchant, Thomas Guy.
Other hospitals sprang up in London and other British cities over the century, many paid for by private subscriptions. St Bartholomew's opened in London in 1730, and the London Hospital in 1752.
These hospitals represented a turning point in the function of the institution; they began to evolve from being basic places of care for the sick to becoming centres of medical innovation and discovery and the principal place for the education and training of prospective practitioners. Some of the era's greatest surgeons and doctors worked and passed on their knowledge at the hospitals. They also changed from being mere homes of refuge to being complex institutions for the provision of medicine and care for sick. The Charité was founded in Berlin in 1710 by King Frederick I of Prussia as a response to an outbreak of plague.
The concept of voluntary hospitals also spread to Colonial America; the Bellevue Hospital Center opened in 1736; the Pennsylvania Hospital opened in 1752, New York Hospital in 1771, and Massachusetts General Hospital in 1811. When the Vienna General Hospital opened in 1784 (instantly becoming the world's largest hospital), physicians acquired a new facility that gradually developed into one of the most important research centres.
Another Enlightenment era charitable innovation was the dispensary; these would issue the poor with medicines free of charge. The London Dispensary opened its doors in 1696 as the first such clinic in the British Empire. The idea was slow to catch on until the 1770s, when many such organisations began to appear, including the Public Dispensary of Edinburgh (1776), the Metropolitan Dispensary and Charitable Fund (1779) and the Finsbury Dispensary (1780). Dispensaries were also opened in New York 1771, Philadelphia 1786, and Boston 1796.
English physician Thomas Percival (1740–1804) wrote a comprehensive system of medical conduct, 'Medical Ethics, or a Code of Institutes and Precepts, Adapted to the Professional Conduct of Physicians and Surgeons (1803) that set the standard for many textbooks.
In the mid 19th century, hospitals and the medical profession became more professionalised, with a reorganisation of hospital management along more bureaucratic and administrative lines. The Apothecaries Act 1815 made it compulsory for medical students to practise for at least half a year at a hospital as part of their training.
Florence Nightingale pioneered the modern profession of nursing during the Crimean War when she set an example of compassion, commitment to patient care and diligent and thoughtful hospital administration. The first official nurses' training programme, the Nightingale School for Nurses, was opened in 1860, with the mission of training nurses to work in hospitals, to work with the poor and to teach.
Nightingale was instrumental in reforming the nature of the hospital, by improving sanitation standards and changing the image of the hospital from a place the sick would go to die, to an institution devoted to recuperation and healing. She also emphasised the importance of statistical measurement for determining the success rate of a given intervention and pushed for administrative reform at hospitals.
By the late 19th century, the modern hospital was beginning to take shape with a proliferation of a variety of public and private hospital systems. By the 1870s, hospitals had more than trebled their original average intake of 3,000 patients. In continental Europe the new hospitals generally were built and run from public funds. The National Health Service, the principal provider of health care in the United Kingdom, was founded in 1948.
During the nineteenth century, the Second Viennese Medical School emerged with the contributions of physicians such as Carl Freiherr von Rokitansky, Josef Škoda, Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra, and Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Basic medical science expanded and specialisation advanced. Furthermore, the first dermatology, eye, as well as ear, nose, and throat clinics in the world were founded in Vienna, being considered as the birth of specialised medicine.
While hospitals, by concentrating equipment, skilled staff and other resources in one place, clearly provide important help to patients with serious or rare health problems, hospitals also are criticised for a number of faults, some of which are endemic to the system, others which develop from what some consider wrong approaches to health care.
One criticism often voiced is the 'industrialised' nature of care, with constantly shifting treatment staff, which dehumanises the patient and prevents more effective care as doctors and nurses rarely are intimately familiar with the patient. The high working pressures often put on the staff can sometimes exacerbate such rushed and impersonal treatment. The architecture and setup of modern hospitals often is voiced as a contributing factor to the feelings of faceless treatment many people complain about.
In the modern era, hospitals are, broadly, either funded by the government of the country in which they are situated, or survive financially by competing in the private sector (a number of hospitals also are still supported by the historical type of charitable or religious associations).
In the United Kingdom for example, a relatively comprehensive, "free at the point of delivery" health care system exists, funded by the state. Hospital care is thus relatively easily available to all legal residents, although free emergency care is available to anyone, regardless of nationality or status. As hospitals prioritise their limited resources, there is a tendency for 'waiting lists' for non-crucial treatment in countries with such systems, as opposed to letting higher-payers get treated first, so sometimes those who can afford it take out private health care to get treatment more quickly. On the other hand, some countries, including the USA, have in the twentieth century introduced a private-based, for-profit-approach to providing hospital care, with few state-money supported 'charity' hospitals remaining today. Where for-profit hospitals in such countries admit uninsured patients in emergency situations (such as during and after Hurricane Katrina in the USA), they incur direct financial losses, ensuring that there is a clear disincentive to admit such patients. In the United States, laws exist to ensure patients receive care in life-threatening emergency situations regardless of the patient's ability to pay.
As the quality of health care has increasingly become an issue around the world, hospitals have increasingly had to pay serious attention to this matter. Independent external assessment of quality is one of the most powerful ways to assess this aspect of health care, and hospital accreditation is one means by which this is achieved. In many parts of the world such accreditation is sourced from other countries, a phenomenon known as international healthcare accreditation, by groups such as Accreditation Canada from Canada, the Joint Commission from the USA, the Trent Accreditation Scheme from Great Britain, and Haute Authorité de santé (HAS) from France.
Modern hospital buildings are designed to minimise the effort of medical personnel and the possibility of contamination while maximising the efficiency of the whole system. Travel time for personnel within the hospital and the transportation of patients between units is facilitated and minimised. The building also should be built to accommodate heavy departments such as radiology and operating rooms while space for special wiring, plumbing, and waste disposal must be allowed for in the design.
However, the reality is that many hospitals, even those considered 'modern', are the product of continual and often badly managed growth over decades or even centuries, with utilitarian new sections added on as needs and finances dictate. As a result, Dutch architectural historian Cor Wagenaar has called many hospitals:
Some newer hospitals now try to re-establish design that takes the patient's psychological needs into account, such as providing more fresh air, better views and more pleasant colour schemes. These ideas harken back to the late eighteenth century, when the concept of providing fresh air and access to the 'healing powers of nature' were first employed by hospital architects in improving their buildings.
The research of British Medical Association is showing that good hospital design can reduce patient's recovery time. Exposure to daylight is effective in reducing depression. Single sex accommodation help ensure that patients are treated in privacy and with dignity. Exposure to nature and hospital gardens is also important – looking out windows improves patients' moods and reduces blood pressure and stress level. Eliminating long corridors can reduce nurses' fatigue and stress.
Another ongoing major development is the change from a ward-based system (where patients are accommodated in communal rooms, separated by movable partitions) to one in which they are accommodated in individual rooms. The ward-based system has been described as very efficient, especially for the medical staff, but is considered to be more stressful for patients and detrimental to their privacy. A major constraint on providing all patients with their own rooms is however found in the higher cost of building and operating such a hospital; this causes some hospitals to charge for private rooms.
Although physicians were available in varying capacities in ancient Rome and Athens, the institution of a hospital dedicated to the care of the sick was a distinctly Christian innovation rooted in the monastic virtue and practise of hospitality. Arranged around the monastery were concentric rings of buildings in which the life and work of the monastic community was ordered. The outer ring of buildings served as a hostel in which travellers were received and boarded. The inner ring served as a place where the monastic community could care for the sick, the poor and the infirm. Monks were frequently familiar with the medicine available at that time, growing medicinal plants on the monastery grounds and applying remedies as indicated. As such, many of the practicing physicians of the Middle Ages were also clergy.
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