A hospital is an institution for health care providing treatment by specialised staff and equipment, and often but not always providing for longer-term patient stays.
Today, hospitals are usually funded by the state, health organizations (for profit or non-profit), health insurances or charities, including direct charitable donations. In history, however, they were often founded and funded by religious orders or charitable individuals and leaders. Similarly, modern-day hospitals are largely staffed by professional physicians, surgeons and nurses, whereas in history, this work was usually done by the founding religious orders or by volunteers.
During the Middle Ages the hospital could serve other functions, such as almshouse for the poor, hostel for pilgrims, or hospital school. The name comes from Latin hospes (host), which is also the root for the English words hotel, hostel, and hospitality. The modern word hotel derives from the French word hostel, which featured a silent s, which was eventually removed from the word. (The circumflex on modern French hôtel hints at the vanished s)
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 is normally 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 usages are found.
The word is also similar/related to Sanskrit word 'Ispital' and the German 'Spital'.
Some patients in a hospital come just for diagnosis and/or therapy and then leave ('outpatients'); while others are 'admitted' and stay overnight or for several weeks or months ('inpatients'). Hospitals are usually distinguished from other types of medical facilities by their ability to admit and care for inpatients.
A hospital may be a single building or a campus. (Many hospitals with pre-20th-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. Worldwide, most hospitals are run on a non-profit basis by governments or charities. Within the United States, most hospitals are not-for-profit.
Hospitals may have any of the following departments or units:
Non-medical departments include:
In ancient cultures, religion and medicine were linked. The earliest known institutions aiming to provide cure were Egyptian temples. Greek temples dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius might admit the sick, who would wait for guidance from the god in a dream. The Romans adopted his worship. 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.
Piercey & Scarborough (2008) report on the origins of the hospital:
As early as 4000 BC religions identified certain of their deities with healing. The temples of Saturn, and later of Asclepius in Asia Minor, were recognized as healing centres. Brahmanic hospitals were established in Sri Lanka as early as 431 BC, and King Aśoka established a chain of hospitals in Hindustān about 230 BC. Around 100 BC the Romans established hospitals (valetudinaria) for the treatment of their sick and injured soldiers; their care was important because it was upon the integrity of the legions that the power of Rome was based.
The Sinhalese (Sri Lankans) are perhaps responsible for introducing the concept of dedicated hospitals to the world. According to the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty written in the 6th century A.D., King Pandukabhaya (4th century 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 perhaps the oldest in the world.
Institutions created specifically to care for the ill also appeared early in India. King Ashoka is said to have founded at least 18 hospitals ca. 230 BC, with physicians and nursing staff, the expense being borne by the royal treasury. Stanley Finger (2001) in his book Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations Into Brain Function provides evidence of an Ashokan edict translated as reading: "Everywhere King Piyadasi (Asoka) erected two kinds of hospitals, hospitals for people and hospitals for animals. Where there were no healing herbs for people and animals, he ordered that they be bought and planted." Similar views are held by Piercey & Scarborough in the Encyclopedia Britannica (2008).
However, there are researchers who dispute this such as Dominik Wujastyk of the University College London who, in his paper The Nurses should be able to Sing and Play Instruments notes that "There is absolutely no evidence for these A´sokan hospitals, in A´soka’s inscriptions or elsewhere. They are ghosts, and we need to exorcise them.". He instead argues that a correct translation of the edict indicates that Ashoka built rest houses (as for travellers) instead of hospitals, and that this was misinterpreted due to the reference to imported medical herbs.
The first teaching hospital where students were authorized to methodically practice on patients under the supervision of physicians as part of their education, was the Academy of Gundishapur in the Persian Empire. One expert has argued that "to a very large extent, the credit for the whole hospital system must be given to Persia".
The adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the empire drove an expansion of the provision of care. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. urged the Church to provide for the poor, sick, widows and strangers. It ordered the construction of a hospital in every cathedral town. Among the earliest were those built by the physician Saint Sampson in Constantinople and by Basil, bishop of Caesarea. The latter was attached to a monastery and provided lodgings for poor and travelers, as well as treating the sick and infirm. There was a separate section for lepers.
The earliest recorded hospitals in the medieval Islamic world refer to the hopital of al-Walid ibn 'Abdul Malik (ruled 705-715 CE) which he built in 86 AH (706-707 CE). It somewhat resembled the Persian bimaristan and Byzantine nosocomia, but was more general as it extended its services to the lepers and the invalid and destitute people. All treatment and care was free of charge and there was more than one physician employed in this hospital.
In the medieval Islamic world, the word "Bimaristan" was used to indicate a hospital in the modern sense, an establishment where the ill were welcomed and cared for by qualified staff. In this way, Muslim physicians were the first to make a distinction between a hospital and other different forms of healing temples, sleep temples, hospices, assylums, lazarets and leper-houses, all of which in ancient times were more concerned with isolating the sick and the mad from society "rather than to offer them any way to a true cure." Some thus consider the medieval Bimaristan hospitals as "the first hospitals" in the modern sense of the word. The first public hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and medical universities were also introduced by medieval Muslim physicians.
Between the eighth and twelfth centuries CE Muslim hospitals developed a high standard of care. Hospitals built in Baghdad in the ninth and tenth centuries employed up to twenty-five staff physicians and had separate wards for different conditions. Al-Qairawan hospital and mosque, in Tunisia, were built under the Aghlabid rule in 830 CE and was simple but adequately equipped with halls organized into waiting rooms, a mosque, and a special bath. The hospital employed female nurses, including nurses from Sudan, a sign of great breakthrough. In addition to regular physicians who attended the sick, there were Fuqaha al-Badan, a kind of religious physio-therapists, group of religious scholars whose medical services included bloodletting, bone setting, and cauterisation. During Ottoman rule, when hospitals reached a particular distinction, Sultan Bayazid II built a mental hospital and medical madrasa in Edirne, and a number of other early hospitals were also built in Turkey. Unlike in Greek temples to healing gods, the clerics working in these facilities employed scientific methodology far beyond that of their contemporaries in their treatment of patients.
According to Sir John Bagot Glubb:
Medieval hospitals in Europe followed a similar pattern. 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-function 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. Not until later where most hospitals multi-functional, though the first Spanish hospital, founded by the Catholic Visigoth bishop Masona in 580 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.
Fray Nicolas de Ovando, Spanish governor and colonial administrator from 1502-1509, authorized its construction in or after 1504. It is believed that this hospital also served as a church during its lifetime. The first phase of its construction was completed in 1519. Erwin Walter Palm, [former author and professor of Spanish American art, culture, and history] wrote that "the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Conception continued the construction of the hospital in 1533, adding modern elements, including additional buildings." Abandoned in the mid-18th century the hospital now lies in ruins near the Cathedral in the colonial zone in Santo Domingo, DR, amid additional historical New World sights.
The Hospital de Jesús Nazareno in Mexico City is the oldest hospital in North America. It was founded in 1524 with the economic support of conquistador Hernán Cortés to care for poor Spanish soldiers and the native inhabitants.
The first hospital in North America north of Mexico is 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 of the niece of Cardinal de Richelieu was granted a royal charter by King Louis XIII and staffed by colonial physician Robert Giffard de Moncel.
Guy's Hospital was founded in London in 1724 from a bequest by wealthy merchant Thomas Guy. Other hospitals sprang up in London and other British cities over the century, many paid for by private subscriptions. In the British American colonies the Pennsylvania General Hospital was chartered in Philadelphia in 1751, after £2,000 from private subscription was matched by funds from the Assembly.
When the Viennese General Hospital (Allgemeines Krankenhaus) opened in 1784 (instantly becoming the world's largest hospital), physicians acquired a new facility that gradually developed into the most important research center. During the 19th 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 were generally built and run from public funds. The National Health Service, the principle provider of healthcare 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. In the late twentieth century, chains of for-profit hospitals arose in the USA.
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 are also 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 are rarely intimately familiar with the patient. The high working pressures often put on the staff exacerbate such rushed and impersonal treatment. The architecture and setup of modern hospitals is often voiced as a contributing factor to the feelings of faceless treatment many people complain about.
Another criticism is that hospitals are in themselves a dangerous place for patients, who are often suffering from weakened immune systems - either due to their body having to undergo substantial surgery or because of the illness which placed them in the hospital itself. As an example, it is estimated that as much as 10% of all patients in the United States contract a nosocomical (hospital-caused) infection. Due to the environment in which antibiotics are used in large quantities, the infections are also often multi-resistant to various treatment methods, such as the relatively common MRSA infection.
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 are also 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" healthcare system exists, funded by the state. Hospital care is thus relatively easily available to all legal residents (although as hospitals prioritize their limited resources, there is a tendency for 'waiting lists' to be generated for non-emergency treatment, and those who can afford it may take out private healthcare to get treatment faster). On the other hand, many countries, including for example the USA, have in the 20th Century followed a largely 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 the Hurricane Katrina in the USA), they incur direct financial losses, ensuring that there is a clear disincentive to admit such patients.
While for-profit-based systems have produced some of the best hospitals in the world, a proportion of the populace may have little or no access to healthcare services of adequate quality.
As quality of healthcare has increasingly become an issue around the world, hospitals have increasingly had to pay serious attention to this. Independent external assessment of quality is one of the most powerful ways of assessing the quality of healthcare, 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 the Joint Commission from the USA and the Trent Accreditation Scheme from Great Britain.
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 hospital designs now try to reestablish design that takes the patient's psychological needs into account, such as providing for more air, better views, and more pleasant color schemes. These ideas harken back to the late 18th 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.
Another major change which is still ongoing in many parts of the world is the change from a ward-based system (where patients are treated and accommodated in communal rooms, separated at best by movable partitions) to a room-based environment, where patients are accommodated in private 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, which causes some hospitals to charge for the privilege of private rooms.
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