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November 28, 1990

The Hospital in History

Author Affiliations

Evanston, Ill

Evanston, Ill

JAMA. 1990;264(20):2683. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450200091041

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


If one assumes, as I did before reading this book, that the hospital of long ago was basically the same in form, function, scope, and intent as the hospital of today (minus, of course, high tech and physician-specialists) then one is in for a surprise on reading The Hospital in History. About all that the hospital of 100 to 500 years ago shares with the hospital of today is the name.

What emerges is that medieval and early modern hospitals were not primarily medical institutions—most of their patients were not even sick. And doctors had little control over hospitals until recently. Hospitals were controlled by the donor (for the benefit of the donor's immortal soul) or the church or monastery as a sort of employee benefit program for aged monks and nuns or by the government (which largely ignored the hospital unless political considerations forced it to do otherwise).