What Is a Hospital?


A hospital is a large facility containing medical, surgical and psychiatric wards; operating theatres; intensive care units; laboratories; and a range of other facilities for the treatment of medical and surgical problems. It also provides a setting for research and education of physicians, nurses and other health-care professionals.

Historically, hospitals have served the needs of people who were either not able to seek out or afford private healthcare services or who had been unable to access public-funded care. They have also played an important role in health systems development.

In modern times, hospitals have developed a range of services, including emergency rooms, day surgery centres, outpatient clinics, obstetrics and gynaecology units and psychiatric units. Some hospitals specialise in a particular type of treatment, for example, heart or lung diseases. A small number of hospitals are devoted to the care of the elderly and the disabled.

Many hospitals are staffed by professionals, who are paid for their time and expertise. Others are staffed by lay people, who may be members of religious communities, such as the Benedictines or the Sisters of Mercy.

Hospitals are essential to people’s lives and vital to health systems as well. They help coordinate patient care, are a base for medical research, educate doctors and nurses and are critical for community outreach and home-based services.

The word “hospital” originated in the Latin hospes, which means “guest-chamber”, “guest’s lodging,” or “hospitium.” It is also used to refer to a place where pilgrims and travelers were housed and cared for.

Early hospitals were essentially almshouses for the poor and hostels for pilgrims, with more emphasis on spirituality than on curing diseases. During the Middle Ages, many monasteries became hospitals. They had an infirmitorium for their sick, a pharmacy and a garden with medicinal plants.

In England, the decline of monastic hospitals in the 15th century led to a gradual transfer of responsibility for institutional health care from the church to secular authorities. This gradually transformed hospitals into institutions of state, often with hospital schools and training for doctors.

A modern large hospital is a complex of buildings staffed by physicians, surgeons, nurses and other health professionals, who are paid for their time and skills. The building is equipped with the latest equipment and facilities for medical and surgical care.

Specialty hospitals, like Vibra Hospital of Sacramento, are designed to treat patients with very serious illnesses or conditions that require an extended period of hospitalization. These types of hospitals are typically located in urban areas.

Another type of hospital is the community hospital, which provides short-stay (or ambulatory) health care services to the general public. The term “community hospital” is commonly used to refer to nonfederal short-stay hospitals, although some state governments use a different term, such as “hospital,” to describe nonfederal hospitals that provide services to people living in rural areas or other remote settings.

The Flex Program provides funding to states that operate or plan to establish critical access hospitals (CAHs) in underserved areas of the country. The Program is managed by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

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