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A hospital is an institution for health care providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment, and often but not always providing for longer-term patient stays.
Today, hospitals are usually funded by the state, by health organizations, (for profit or non-profit), health insurances or charities, including by direct charitable donations. In history, however, hospitals 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, eventually removed from the word to leave a circumflex on modern French hôtel. The word is also related to the Sanskrit word 'Ispital' and the German 'Spital'.
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 Romans created valetudinaria for the care of sick slaves, gladiators and soldiers around 100 BC, and many were identified by later archeology. While their existence is considered proven, there is some doubt as to whether they were as widespread as was once thought, as many were identified only according to the layout of building remains, and not by means of surviving records or finds of medical tools.
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.
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. Most of these criticisms stem from the pre-Listerian era. However, even in modern hospitals, hospital acquired infections can be an important cause of hospital related morbidity, and sometimes mortality.
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" health care 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' for non-emergency treatment in countries with such systems, and those who can afford it often take out private health care 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.
As quality of health care 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 health care, 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 health care accreditation, by groups such as Accreditation Canada from Canada, the Joint Commission from the USA, the Trent Accreditation Scheme from Great Britain, and Haute Authorité de santé (HAS) from France.