Hospital, an institution that is built, staffed, and equipped for the diagnosis of disease; for the treatment, both medical and surgical, of the sick and the injured; and for their housing during this process. The modern hospital also often serves as a centre for investigation and for teaching.
To better serve the wide-ranging needs of the community, the modern hospital has often developed outpatient facilities, as well as emergency, psychiatric, and rehabilitation services. In addition, “bedless hospitals” provide strictly ambulatory (outpatient) care and day surgery. Patients arrive at the facility for short appointments. They may also stay for treatment in surgical or medical units for part of a day or for a full day, after which they are discharged for follow-up by a primary care health provider.
Hospitals have long existed in most countries. Developing countries, which contain a large proportion of the world’s population, generally do not have enough hospitals, equipment, and trained staff to handle the volume of persons who need care. Thus, people in these countries do not always receive the benefits of modern medicine, public health measures, or hospital care, and they generally have lower life expectancies.
In developed countries the hospital as an institution is complex, and it is made more so as modern technology increases the range of diagnostic capabilities and expands the possibilities for treatment. As a result of the greater range of services and the more-involved treatments and surgeries available, a more highly trained staff is required. A combination of medical research, engineering, and biotechnology has produced a vast array of new treatments and instrumentation, much of which requires specialized training and facilities for its use. Hospitals thus have become more expensive to operate, and health service managers are increasingly concerned with questions of quality, cost, effectiveness, and efficiency.
History of hospitals
As early as 4000 bce, 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 bce, and King Ashoka established a chain of hospitals in Hindustan about 230 bce. Around 100 bce 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 ancient Rome was based.
It can be said, however, that the modern concept of a hospital dates from 331 ce when Roman emperor Constantine I (Constantine the Great), having been converted to Christianity, abolished all pagan hospitals and thus created the opportunity for a new start. Until that time disease had isolated the sufferer from the community. The Christian tradition emphasized the close relationship of the sufferer to the members of the community, upon whom rested the obligation for care. Illness thus became a matter for the Christian church.
About 370 ce St. Basil the Great established a religious foundation in Cappadocia that included a hospital, an isolation unit for those suffering from leprosy, and buildings to house the poor, the elderly, and the sick. Following this example, similar hospitals were later built in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Another notable foundation was that of St. Benedict of Nursia at Montecassino, founded early in the 6th century, where the care of the sick was placed above and before every other Christian duty. It was from this beginning that one of the first medical schools in Europe ultimately grew at Salerno and was of high repute by the 11th century. This example led to the establishment of similar monastic infirmaries in the western part of the empire.
The Hôtel-Dieu of Lyon was opened in 542 and the Hôtel-Dieu of Paris in 660. In these hospitals more attention was given to the well-being of the patient’s soul than to curing bodily ailments. The manner in which monks cared for their own sick became a model for the laity. The monasteries had an infirmitorium, a place to which their sick were taken for treatment. The monasteries had a pharmacy and frequently a garden with medicinal plants. In addition to caring for sick monks, the monasteries opened their doors to pilgrims and to other travelers.
Religion continued to be the dominant influence in the establishment of hospitals during the Middle Ages. The growth of hospitals accelerated during the Crusades, which began at the end of the 11th century. Pestilence and disease were more potent enemies than the Saracens in defeating the crusaders. Military hospitals came into being along the traveled routes; the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John in 1099 established in the Holy Land a hospital that could care for some 2,000 patients. It is said to have been especially concerned with eye disease, and it may have been the first of the specialized hospitals. This order has survived through the centuries as the St. John Ambulance.
Throughout the Middle Ages, but notably in the 12th century, the number of hospitals grew rapidly in Europe. Arab hospitals—such as those established at Baghdad and Damascus and in Córdoba in Spain—were notable for the fact that they admitted patients regardless of religious belief, race, or social order. The Hospital of the Holy Ghost, founded in 1145 at Montpellier in France, established a high reputation and later became one of the most important centres in Europe for the training of doctors. By far the greater number of hospitals established during the Middle Ages, however, were monastic institutions under the Benedictines, who are credited with having founded more than 2,000.
The Middle Ages also saw the beginnings of support for hospital-like institutions by secular authorities. Toward the end of the 15th century, many cities and towns supported some kind of institutional health care: it has been said that in England there were no fewer than 200 such establishments that met a growing social need. This gradual transfer of responsibility for institutional health care from the church to civil authorities continued in Europe after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 by Henry VIII, which put an end to hospital building in England for some 200 years.
The loss of monastic hospitals in England caused the secular authorities to provide for the sick, the injured, and the handicapped, thus laying the foundation for the voluntary hospital movement. The first voluntary hospital in England was probably established in 1718 by Huguenots from France and was closely followed by the foundation of such London hospitals as the Westminster Hospital in 1719, Guy’s Hospital in 1724, and the London Hospital in 1740. Between 1736 and 1787, hospitals were established outside London in at least 18 cities. The initiative spread to Scotland, where the first voluntary hospital, the Little Hospital, was opened in Edinburgh in 1729.
The first hospital in North America (Hospital de Jesús Nazareno) was built in Mexico City in 1524 by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés; the structure still stands. The French established a hospital in Canada in 1639 at Quebec city, the Hôtel-Dieu du Précieux Sang, which is still in operation (as the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec), although not at its original location. In 1644 Jeanne Mance, a French noblewoman, built a hospital of ax-hewn logs on the island of Montreal; this was the beginning of the Hôtel-Dieu de St. Joseph, out of which grew the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph, now considered to be the oldest nursing group organized in North America. The first hospital in the territory of the present-day United States is said to have been a hospital for soldiers on Manhattan Island, established in 1663.
The early hospitals were primarily almshouses, one of the first of which was established by English Quaker leader and colonist William Penn in Philadelphia in 1713. The first incorporated hospital in America was the Pennsylvania Hospital, in Philadelphia, which obtained a charter from the crown in 1751.