What to Know About Hospitals

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 09, 2022
5 min read

A hospital is a crucial part of the health system. It provides outpatient, inpatient, and emergency medical care for sick and injured people. You can visit a hospital outpatient department for a consultation when you're sick. An emergency room is the hospital facility you need in an urgent situation. Hospitals are also important for training doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. Some hospitals carry out medical research to advance medical science and improve the care of patients.

Hospital departments provide a variety of services. Some are concerned with the diagnosis of diseases, like pathology and imaging departments. Some provide medical, surgical, and other specialized treatment. Specific departments look after the nutrition, rehabilitation, and other needs of patients admitted to the hospital.

Seriously ill people stay in a hospital for round-the-clock expert monitoring and treatment. Health care facilities that don't provide stay facilities are not generally considered hospitals. Examples include stand-alone urgent care centers, your doctor's clinic, pathology laboratories, imaging centers, and dental clinics. 

The U.S. has more than 5,000 hospitals of different types.

Community hospitals. These serve local communities without federal funding. Most will provide care for all types of patients, but some are specialized in one field — like orthopedics, trauma care, cancer, or maternity. Their size can vary from six beds to more than 500 beds. 

Teaching hospitals. These are hospitals that also provide training to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. Teaching hospitals are often affiliated with medical schools and carry out medical research. 

Nonteaching hospitals. These hospitals concentrate only on patient care. Each hospital department has qualified and experienced doctors to provide expert care.

Federal government hospitals. About 200 such hospitals provide medical care to people on active military duty, veterans, and other special populations.

Mental health hospitals. These serve the specialized needs of people with mental health illnesses who need inpatient care. They treat people with substance abuse, severe depression, and other disorders. 

Long-term care hospitals. These hospitals provide medical and rehabilitative services to people who no longer need acute care.

Hospitals are large, complex buildings, and finding your way to a particular hospital facility is challenging. This is especially true if you're visiting for the first time. 

Hospitals often have a map at the entrance, with the different buildings, departments, and facilities marked in distinct colors. The floor has colored lines to guide you to the location you need. Look for signs on the walls that guide visitors. Some hospitals now provide navigation apps for smartphones that can guide you around.

Some parts of a hospital are off-limits to visitors for reasons like infection control practices or radiation hazards. Always respect signs that restrict entry to staff.

It's worth visiting a family member or friend who's staying in the hospital. Patients in a hospital can be lonely and sad, and they're generally happy to have visitors. You can also bring gifts and food and help make care decisions. On the other hand, patients often need uninterrupted rest and a calm place to recover from illness or surgery. You might also carry infections from the community into the sterile environs of the hospital. Here are some considerations about hospital visitors to keep in mind: 

  • There are no limits on who can visit a patient. Anyone the patient wants to meet is allowed to visit them in the hospital.
  • The hospital can restrict visiting hours. 
  • The hospital may disallow visitors for safety reasons. People with contagious diseases or reduced immunity may not have visitors.
  • Some treatment areas, like operation suites and emergency rooms, may not allow visitors.
  • The hospital may restrict your visit if you have a cold, cough, or another sign of a contagious disease.

In general, it's best to call the hospital and ask about their visiting hours. Also, call your friend or family member in the hospital to know whether they want visitors. While visitors are generally welcome, patients can get tired quickly. They may not want long visits or too many people together. Hospitals generally allow gifts like books, magazines, and fruit but tend to discourage flowers. Avoiding infection spread is important. Follow these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands before entering the hospital and again when leaving.
  • Don't sit on the patient's bed or put your feet on it. Use a chair.
  • Don't use the patient's toilet. Look for the hospital's public facilities.
  • Avoid touching the patient, their tissues, toiletries, or any medical equipment in the room.
  • Don't visit if you have an infectious condition.

Your doctor may advise hospitalization if you have a severe or life-threatening disease. They may also advise you to stay in the hospital if you have a disease of lesser severity that needs better care than you can get at home. Staying in a hospital overnight or for a longer time can be frightening and disruptive. Your doctor will not advise it lightly. The main intention of hospitalization is to improve your health so that you can go home in good health.

Hospitalization starts with some paperwork unless you're seriously sick. You will need to fill out forms for:

  • Basic information like your name and address
  • Contact details of family and friends for use in an emergency
  • Health insurance information
  • Consent for treatment, including surgery
  • Consent to release your health information to your insurance company
  • Agreement to pay hospital charges

You should bring your current prescriptions and any health-related information you have with you. The hospital will supply the medications from their own pharmacy, so don't bring your own. Bring your regular doctor's information so the hospital doctors can communicate with them about your condition. You'll be spending one or more days alone in the hospital, so bring books, magazines, and other materials to keep you occupied. Hospitals also like to have copies of any advance directives and legal forms that specify who will make medical decisions for you if you can't do it yourself.

Your experience in the hospital will depend on your specific reason for admission. A private room is comparatively calm and quiet, and you will only see health care staff coming to visit you. If you're in an intensive care unit, expect a flurry of activity, as these departments are often open-plan and have a lot of severely ill people.

Always wear the identity bracelet you receive at the time of admission to make sure the hospital staff give you the correct treatment. Try to be mobile. Moving about helps your recovery, prevents bed sores and infections, and saves you from blood clots.

Your doctor will visit you once a day, if not more often. They will assess your condition, review your chart and laboratory results, and write orders for your treatment. You should write down any questions you have throughout the day so you can ask your doctor when they visit. You might like to have a friend or family member present during your doctor's visit. 

Nurses, laboratory technicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, and other health care staff will visit you as needed. When your health has improved to the point where you can complete the treatment at home, your doctor will discharge you. The hospital will give you a care plan detailing further treatment, which you must follow at home.