Handbook for Mortals : A guide to settings and services : Hospitals

What is a hospital? This question might appear to be an elementary one. However, at the rate that our health care system changes, it is worthwhile to know just what kind of care hospitals provide and how to find out if that care can meet your needs. The traditional hospital is a health care institution that has an organized staff, inpatient care, and nursing services. Generally, hospitals are designed to provide aggressive and curative care. Because we are most familiar with hospitals, they might be the first place that we would turn to in an emergency. But a hospital might not be the appropriate place for everyone. While the hospital usually provides good emergency and rescue care and life-prolonging treatments, hospitals may not be the best place to get good symptom relief and care planning. As with any important decision, the first thing is to think about what kind of care you would like and discuss your choice with your family.

Your doctor might be the most appropriate person for you to talk with to find out if the hospital is the place that fits your needs. Most often, doctors are trained to cure illness within a care system that generally pays well for brilliant performances in something like surgery, but does not pay well for hearing aids or medications. The ways that doctors and hospitals are paid for the services that they provide create gaps when you need care over an extended period or at the end of life. If the questions you have are medical, like those about medication for pain, calling your doctor is the best option. If the questions are about how to pay for services or plan for care, asking advice from a nurse or social worker from the hospital may be the better choice.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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