Hospitals are usually funded by the public sector, by health organizations (for profit or nonprofit), health insurance companies, or 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, which still focus on hospital ministry today.
In accord 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 to modern institutions, being 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, 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 U.S., hospital usually requires an article; in Britain 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, 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;
Types of specialized hospitals include trauma centers, 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 specialized 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.
A teaching hospital combines assistance to patients with teaching to medical students and nurses and often is linked to a medical school, nursing school or university.
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 practice is allowed). Clinics generally provide only outpatient services.
Hospitals vary widely in the services they offer and therefore, in the departments (or "wards") they have. Each is usually headed by a Chief Physician. They 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:
Some hospitals will have outpatient departments and some will 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, and 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 (aka Maintenance), Dining Services, and Security departments.
In ancient cultures, religion and medicine were linked. 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 BC) on an island in the Tiber in Rome, where similar rites were performed.
"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 Carakasamhita (Compendium of Caraka). This text, which describes the building of a hospital is dated by Dominik Wujastyk of the University College London from the period between 100 BCE and CE150. 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 organized 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 BC to 367 BC) 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 archeology. 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 accepted religion in the Roman Empire drove an expansion of the provision of care. Following First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. 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 programs, 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-organized hospitals, staffed by doctors who were both male and female. Facilities included systematic treatment procedures and specialized wards for various diseases.
A hospital and medical training centre also existed at Jundishapur. The city of Jundishapur was founded in 271 CE by the Sassanid 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 Jundishapur in 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 Jundishapur. 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 Jundishapur, 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.
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 Jundishapur and was first headed by the Christian physician Jibrael ibn Bukhtishu from Jundishapur and later by Islamic physicians.
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 organized 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
Medieval hospitals in Europe followed a similar pattern to the Byzantine. They were religious communities, with care provided by monks and nuns. (An old French term for hospital is hôtel-Dieu, "hostel of God.") Some were attached to monasteries; others were independent and had their own endowments, usually of property, which provided income for their support. Some hospitals were multi-functional while others were founded for specific purposes such as leper hospitals, or as refuges for the poor, or for pilgrims: not all cared for the sick. The first Spanish hospital, founded by the Catholic Visigoth bishop Masona in 580AD at Mérida, was a xenodochium designed as an inn for travellers (mostly pilgrims to the shrine of Eulalia of Mérida) as well as a hospital for citizens and local farmers. The hospital's endowment consisted of farms to feed its patients and guests.
The Ospedale Maggiore, traditionally named Ca' Granda (i.e. Big House), in Milan, northern Italy, was constructed to house one of the first community hospitals, the largest such undertaking of the fifteenth century. Commissioned by Francesco Sforza in 1456 and designed by Antonio Filarete it is among the first examples of Renaissance architecture in Lombardy.
The Normans brought their hospital system along when they conquered England in 1066. By merging with traditional land-tenure and customs, the new charitable houses became popular and were distinct from both English monasteries and French hospitals. They dispensed alms and some medicine, and were generously endowed by the nobility and gentry who counted on them for spiritual rewards after death.
The first hospital founded in the Americas was the Hospital San Nicolás de Bari [Calle Hostos] in Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional Dominican Republic. Fray Nicolás de Ovando, Spanish governor and colonial administrator from 1502–1509, authorized its construction on December 29, 1503. This hospital apparently incorporated a church. The first phase of its construction was completed in 1519, and it was rebuilt in 1552. Abandoned in the mid-eighteenth century, the hospital now lies in ruins near the Cathedral in Santo Domingo.
Conquistador Hernán Cortés founded the two earliest hospitals in North America: the Immaculate Conception Hospital and the Saint Lazarus Hospital. The oldest was the Immaculate Conception, now the Hospital de Jesús Nazareno in Mexico City, founded in 1524 to care for the poor.
The first hospital north of Mexico was the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. It was established in New France in 1639 by three Augustinians from l'Hôtel-Dieu de Dieppe in France. The project, begun by the niece of Cardinal de Richelieu was granted a royal charter by King Louis XIII and staffed by a colonial physician, Robert Giffard de Moncel.
In Europe the medieval concept of Christian care evolved during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries into a secular one, but it was in the eighteenth century that the modern hospital began to appear, serving only medical needs and staffed with physicians and surgeons. The Charité (founded in Berlin in 1710) is an early example.
The London Dispensary opened in 1696, the first clinic in the British Empire to dispense medicines to poor sick people. Innovation was slow to catch on, but new dispensaries were open in the 1770s. In the colonies, dispensaries were opened in New York 1771, Philadelphia 1786, and Boston 1796.
Guy's Hospital was founded in London in 1724 from a bequest by 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. Important hospitals opened in Philadelphia in 1752, New York in 1771, and Boston (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 the most important research centre.
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.
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 specialization 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 specialized medicine.
By the mid-nineteenth century most of Europe and the United States had established a variety of public and private hospital systems. In continental Europe the new hospitals generally were built and run from public funds. The National Health Service, the principle provider of health care in the United Kingdom, was founded in 1948.
In the United States the traditional hospital is a non-profit hospital, usually sponsored by a religious denomination. One of the earliest of these "almshouses" in what would become the United States was started by William Penn in Philadelphia in 1713. These hospitals are tax-exempt due to their charitable purpose, but provide only a minimum of charitable medical care. They are supplemented by large public hospitals in major cities and research hospitals often affiliated with a medical school. The largest public hospital system in America is the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which includes Bellevue Hospital, the oldest U.S. hospital, affiliated with New York University School of Medicine. In the late twentieth century, chains of for-profit hospitals arose in the United States. The decline in the membership of religious orders has changed the status of Catholic hospitals.
In the 2000s, modern private hospitals began to appear in developing countries such as India.
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 prioritize 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 minimize the effort of medical personnel and the possibility of contamination while maximizing the efficiency of the whole system. Travel time for personnel within the hospital and the transportation of patients between units is facilitated and minimized. 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.
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