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A hospital is a health care institution providing patient care and treatment, study of diseases, and training for doctors and nurses.[1] Hospitals are usually funded by the public sector, by for-profit and non-profit health organizations, health insurance companies, or charitable organizations. Historically, hospitals were often founded and funded by religious orders or charitable individuals and leaders.[2] Today, hospitals are largely staffed by professional physicians, surgeons, and nurses. However, various Catholic religious orders such as the Alexians and the Bon Secours Sisters still focus on hospital ministry today, as well as several Christian denominations, including the Methodists and Lutherans, which run hospitals.[3]

In accord with the original meaning of the word, hospitals were originally "places of hospitality" for the needy[4], 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.[5]


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. Worldwide, most hospitals are run on a nonprofit basis by governments or charities. Some hospitals may be affiliated with universities. Hospital services are typically utilized in one of two ways. Some patients use the hospital for outpatient care, primarily for diagnosis, treatment, or therapy without staying overnight. Others must opt for inpatient care, admitted for overnight care over a period of two or more days for complicated illnesses and procedures.

Hospitals should not be confused with clinics, a smaller outpatient-only facility that is often run by a government agency for health services or a private partnership of physicians (in nations where private practice is allowed).


The most common hospital type is the general hospital, which is organized to treat many kinds of disease and injury. A general hospital typically 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, geriatric hospitals, and hospitals for dealing with specific medical needs such as psychiatric problems or certain disease categories such as cardiac, oncology, or orthopedic.

Specialized hospitals can help reduce health care costs compared to general hospitals. For example, Narayana Hrudayalaya's Bangalore cardiac unit, which specializes in cardiac surgery, allows for a 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.[6][7] 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.[6] Additionally, it is argued that costs go down as all its specialists become efficient by working on one "production line" procedure.[7]


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. These hospitals may also conduct medical research in affiliation with the university.


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. Hospitals often contain acute services such as an emergency department or specialist trauma center, burn unit, surgical center, or urgent care unit. These may then be backed up by more specialist units such as:

  • cardiology
  • intensive care unit
    • pediatric intensive care unit
    • neonatal intensive care unit
    • cardiovascular intensive care unit
  • neurology
  • oncology
  • obstetrics and gynecology

Some hospitals will have outpatient departments as well as chronic treatment units such as behavioral health services, dentistry, dermatology, psychiatric ward, rehabilitation center, and physical therapy center.

Common support units include a dispensary or pharmacy, pathology, and radiology. On the non-medical side, medical records, information management (IM, IT, or IS), clinical engineering (aka biomed), facilities management, plant ops (aka maintenance), dining services, and security departments provide important support to patients and staff alike.


  1. Goyal, R. C. (2005). Hospital Administration And Human Resource Management. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 9788120328747. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  2. Hall, Daniel (December 2008). "Altar and Table: A phenomenology of the surgeon-priest". Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 81 (4): 193–198. PMC PMC2605310. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  3. Lovoll, Odd Svere (1998). The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. U of Minnesota Press. p. 192. ISBN 9780816628322. 
  4. Porter, Roy (2001). The Penguin Social History of Britain: English Society in the Eighteenth Century. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141926476. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  5. Hutt, George (ed.) (1872). Papers Illustrative of the Origin and Early History of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode. pp. 343. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Salter, Chuck (7 February 2012). "Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals". Fast Company. Mansueto Ventures. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Morris, Chris (1 August 2010). "India's 'production line' heart hospital". BBC. Retrieved 3 April 2014.