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A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment with specialized medical and nursing staff and medical equipment. The best-known type of hospital is the general hospital, which typically has an emergency department to treat urgent health problems ranging from fire and accident victims to a sudden illness. A district hospital typically is the major health care facility in its region, with a large number of beds for intensive care and additional beds for patients who need long-term care. Specialized hospitals include trauma centers, rehabilitation hospitals, children's hospitals, seniors' (geriatric) hospitals, and hospitals for dealing with specific medical needs such as psychiatric treatment (see psychiatric hospital) and certain disease categories. Specialized hospitals can help reduce health care costs compared to general hospitals. Hospitals are classified as general, specialty, or government depending on the sources of income received.

Hospitals are usually funded by the public sector, health organisations (for profit or nonprofit), health insurance companies, or charities, including direct charitable donations. Historically, hospitals were often founded and funded by religious orders, or by charitable individuals and leaders.

Some patients go to a hospital just for diagnosis, treatment, or therapy and then leave ("outpatients") without staying overnight; while others are "admitted" and stay overnight or for several days or weeks or months ("inpatients"). Hospitals usually are distinguished from other types of medical facilities by their ability to admit and care for inpatients whilst the others, which are smaller, are often described as clinics.

Types of specialised hospitals include rehabilitation hospitals, children's hospitals, seniors' (geriatric) hospitals, long-term acute care facilities and hospitals for dealing with specific medical needs such as psychiatric problems (see psychiatric hospital), certain disease categories such as cardiac, oncology, or orthopedic problems, and so forth. In Germany specialised hospitals are called Fachkrankenhaus; an example is Fachkrankenhaus Coswig (thoracic surgery).

Specialised hospitals can help reduce health care costs compared to general hospitals. For example, Narayana Health's Bangalore cardiac unit, which is specialised in cardiac surgery, allows for significantly greater number of patients. It has 3000 beds (more than 20 times the average American hospital) and in pediatric heart surgery alone, it performs 3000 heart operations annually, making it by far the largest such facility in the world. Surgeons are paid on a fixed salary instead of per operation; thus, the costs to the hospital drops when the number of procedures increases, taking advantage of economies of scale. Additionally, it is argued that costs go down as all its specialists become efficient by working on one "production line" procedure.

A teaching hospital combines assistance to people with teaching to medical students and nurses and often is linked to a medical school, nursing school or university. In some countries like UK exists the clinical attachment system that is defined as a period of time when a doctor is attached to a named supervisor in a clinical unit, with the broad aims of observing clinical practice in the UK and the role of doctors and other healthcare professionals in the National Health Service (NHS).

By the late 19th century, the modern hospital was beginning to take shape with a proliferation of a variety of public and private hospital systems. By the 1870s, hospitals had more than trebled their original average intake of 3,000 patients. In continental Europe the new hospitals generally were built and run from public funds. The National Health Service, the principal provider of health care in the United Kingdom, was founded in 1948. During the nineteenth century, the Second Viennese Medical School emerged with the contributions of physicians such as Carl Freiherr von Rokitansky, Josef Skoda, Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra, and Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Basic medical science expanded and specialisation advanced. Furthermore, the first dermatology, eye, as well as ear, nose, and throat clinics in the world were founded in Vienna, being considered as the birth of specialised medicine.

Microhospitals, which range from eight beds to fifty, are expanding in the United States. Similarly, freestanding emergency rooms, which can handle emergencies and possibly transfer patients to hospitals, began to become popular in the 1970s and have since expanded rapidly across the United States.

Modern hospitals are 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 also are still supported by the historical type of charitable or religious associations).

As the quality of health care has increasingly become an issue around the world, hospitals have increasingly had to pay serious attention to this matter. Independent external assessment of quality is one of the most powerful ways to assess this aspect 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 healthcare accreditation, by groups such as Accreditation Canada from Canada, the Joint Commission from the USA, the Trent Accreditation Scheme from Great Britain, and Haute Authorite de sante (HAS) from France.

Modern hospital buildings are designed to minimise the effort of medical personnel and the possibility of contamination while maximising the efficiency of the whole system. Travel time for personnel within the hospital and the transportation of patients between units is facilitated and minimised. The building also should be built to accommodate heavy departments such as radiology and operating rooms while space for special wiring, plumbing, and waste disposal must be allowed for in the design.

Another ongoing major development is the change from a ward-based system (where patients are accommodated in communal rooms, separated by movable partitions) to one in which they are accommodated in individual rooms. The ward-based system has been described as very efficient, especially for the medical staff, but is considered to be more stressful for patients and detrimental to their privacy. A major constraint on providing all patients with their own rooms is however found in the higher cost of building and operating such a hospital; this causes some hospitals to charge for private rooms.