Types of hospitals

Hospitals, traditionally known as "places of hospitality," used to be run by religious orders or volunteers. Now they include several different types of medical facilities. These medical centers usually consist of several buildings in a campus setting and are categorized according to the services they offer, the patients they serve and the organizations that run the facility.

Short-stay facilities are often referred to as acute care facilities because they focus on resolving sudden or pressing problems, such as a heart attack. Long-term care includes rehabilitation and psychiatric facilities.

Community, or general, hospitals are another common facility type. In addition to being the go-to place for illness and injury treatment, these facilities normally operate an emergency department to deal with urgent needs, and they often have their own ambulance service.

District and regional healthcare facilities are a larger version of this facility type. Their more specialized facilities include more beds for intensive and long-term care and specialized units that handle specific needs, such as childbirth or cancer treatment.

Specialized facilities meet specific needs, such as trauma, children, rehabilitation and psychiatric care. Certain fields, such as cardiology or oncology, have their own specialized care centers as well.

Teaching facilities are affiliated with universities. Patients are often examined and treated by both the attending physician and physicians in training. These campuses often have state-of-the-art equipment and highly qualified physicians.

Departments in a hospital

The focus and size of the medical facility will vary depending on the services they offer, but common departments include emergency or urgent care, surgical care, labor and delivery and a lab. Larger facilities may have units devoted to burns and trauma.

Emergency departments are equipped to deal with all types of situations. Nurses and the physician on duty see patients in order of need.

Most facilities have a surgical ward that covers many different kinds of operations on a day-to-day basis. Everything from minor outpatient surgery to major transplants is handled in this part of the facility.

Two units that work closely with the surgery department are the anesthesiology department and the pharmacy. anesthesiologists provide the anesthetic required for operations and are available to provide acute and chronic pain services, critical care services in the case of trauma and analgesia for childbirth. A pharmacy unit is responsible for all drug-based services in the facility, including the purchasing, supply and distribution of pharmaceuticals. This department is run by pharmacists, technicians and support staff.

Outpatient departments and other treatment units are devoted to physical therapy, behavioral health or dermatology.

On the nonmedical side, hospitals often feature a medical record department, a cafeteria, a gift shop area and maintenance and security departments.

Hospital staff

Illnesses, injuries and medical conditions of all kinds require consistent attention, and so these centers are staffed around the clock. Hundreds of staffers come in and out of a medical facility every day.

Although the staff varies by facility due to the needs of different departments, one thing is certain: A variety of careers are represented there. Certain professions cross over from department to department, whereas others are very specific to the needs of a single unit. For example, doctors often work in different departments, whereas some technicians use only particular equipment in a single department.

Needs vary, but in general employees in clinical jobs offer direct patient care, and nonclinical employees manage the facility and other support roles that help the facility run smoothly. In addition to the paid employees, volunteers often make up a percentage of the staff.

Doctors and nurses are not the only hands-on clinical care providers: Therapists, technicians and social workers also have direct care roles in the various departments.

Nonclinical roles include executives, human resources, recruiting professionals, administrative assistants and information technologists, to name a few.

Choosing the right hospital for you

Because hospitals comprise so many different aspects, finding the best facility for your specific condition can prove challenging. One hospital may have superb doctors and specialists with inefficient or impolite staff, and another might have the opposite.

Do your research with Angie's List by comparing hospitalists and specialty docs with the overall ratings and reviews from members who've been patients themselves or who've had family members under their care.

Get help from a patient advocate

When you're a hospital patient, you're primary focus is on getting well. But you may not know what questions to ask to ensure you're getting the best care. Patient advocates can help you make sure you're not overlooking any important information before your receive treatment. Some can even help you dispute charges you may not have incurred. 

Read more in the Angie's List Guide to Patient Advocates.

Children's hospitals

There are times in some children's lives when an illness or condition requires the services of pediatricians, staff trained to handle and treat their bodies and understand their mentality.

Read more in Angie's List Guide to Children's Hospitals.

General surgery

If you have an injury or sudden illness that requires emergency surgery, it likely will be performed by a general surgeon at the hospital you're taken to or by a resident in training to be a surgeon. If you're having an elective surgery, you should already have a relationship with the surgeon, whose credentials you've researched before the procedure.

Read more about how surgeons are trained and what they can do in Angie's List Guide to General Surgery.

Hospital ICU

Most people visit the hospital for non life-threatening conditions, and many who go there with critical conditions are stabilized quickly. However, there are occasions when a patient needs monitoring due to a sudden and possibly life-threatening change to their health.

For more information about how they may be cared for in a hospital IC unit, read Angie's List Guide to Intensive Care Unit.

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