When someone learns they have a life-threatening illness, they are often willing to travel anywhere in the world to get good care. However, the vast majority of illnesses and injuries can be treated in hospitals that are not far from home.
In developed countries, hospitals have become increasingly complex institutions as modern technology produces new treatments and expands the scope of diagnostic capabilities. Almost every hospital has an accident and emergency department to deal with immediate threats to health, and some have special departments for particular kinds of diseases or injuries (e.g., heart surgery or childbirth).
Most hospitals have a range of other services to support patient care and help patients recover from their illnesses. Many have a dietitian to help plan balanced meals for patients who are staying in the hospital for a long period of time, and physical therapists to help patients regain strength and mobility after an injury or surgery. Some hospitals also have social workers to assist patients and their families with emotional or financial concerns, and chaplains who can provide spiritual guidance.
Hospitals are often the centerpiece of a local healthcare system, and they provide a base for training doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals. They are also often key players in community outreach programs and referral networks.
When people are admitted to a hospital, they typically have several questions about their stay: How long will it last? Will they be treated well? Will their friends and family be able to visit them? In some cases, hospitals have policies limiting visitors to those who are sick or injured, and these restrictions can lead to feelings of loneliness and frustration.
A hospital can be a stressful place to be, but it can be helpful to think of it as a temporary “recovery space.” For example, the absence of responsibilities at work and home can reduce stress levels, which can speed up recovery. And being in a small group of people for most of the day provides structure and a sense of belonging.
If a person feels they are unable to cope alone in the hospital, they can ask for help from relatives or friends, a chaplain or counselor, and they can bring books and magazines or other activities to keep them occupied. They can also bring copies of advance directives or other legal forms that specify who will make medical decisions for them if they are not able to do so themselves.
In the United States, many hospitals have a mission statement that states that they put patients first. This means that they consider how their actions will affect the patient experience, from simple things like posting wayfinding signs to more complex activities such as implementing new enterprise technology for clinicians. Hospitals that are truly patient-centric have a culture of patient-centeredness embedded in their DNA and in every department and interaction.