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The Pros and Cons of Public vs. Private Hospitals

For all intents and purposes, there are two main types of hospitals: public hospitals and private hospitals. The former tend to be much larger than the latter, so they are also called "big hospitals." Private hospitals, on the other hand, tend to be a lot smaller.

Public hospitals are funded by local, state and federal funds. As a result, they cannot turn anyone away. Even if someone who is entirely penniless comes in, the hospital must treat him or her. Because they are privately owned, private hospitals have the right to refuse treatment. By law, however, they must stabilize anyone who is in an emergency situation and may then send him or her to a public hospital.

Public and Private Hospitals by the Numbers

According to the 2014 American Hospital Association Annual Survey, there are 5,686 hospitals in the United States. Of that total, 2,904 are public hospitals, and 1,060 are private. There are a total of 795,603 staffed beds in public hospitals and 118,910 staffed beds in private hospitals. Public hospitals had about 33.6 million admissions annually while private hospitals had about 1.8 million admissions annually.

Pros and Cons of Private Hospitals

Many people prefer going to private hospitals for emergencies and various treatments. Some advantages include:

  • Thanks to their smaller size, they are more equipped to offer personalized care.
  • Instead of being responsible for dozens of patients, nurses usually only have a few to care for at a time.
  • They tend to stay on the cutting edge of technology more easily than public hospitals, and they often have upscale amenities that make them feel more like nice hotels than hospitals.
  • Wait times tend to be short, and doctor-to-patient ratios are usually excellent.

There are significant drawbacks to private hospitals, too. For example:

  • They often only accept limited forms of insurance.
  • They have the right to refuse to treat anyone who they don't think can pay.
  • They also tend to be more expensive in general.
  • Finally, they usually have very limited numbers of beds.

Pros and Cons of Big, Public Hospitals

When most people need a hospital, they generally wind up at a big, public one. Some benefits to a public hospital include:

  • Public hospitals can't turn anyone away, so you're sure to receive treatment when you visit one.
  • Because they are publicly funded and not for profit, they are usually a lot more affordable than private hospitals.
  • Due to their size, they also usually have a lot more beds than private hospitals.

As for the drawbacks of public hospitals, there are some to consider.

  • Their sheer size is a big one.
  • Although they have way more employees than private hospitals, patient-to-doctor ratios don't tend to be very good.
  • You are almost certain to wait when visiting the ER. Depending on the time of day and the nature of your emergency, you could wait for hours before being seen.
  • There isn't e much in the way of personalized care because nurses are often overloaded with patients. After all, public hospitals can't refuse anyone.

Which Option is Right for You?

In an emergency, there's not time to pick and choose between big hospitals and private ones. When arranging treatments, however, you have the luxury of weighing the pros and cons of each. Ultimately, the decision will hinge on which facility accepts your type of insurance and on whether there's enough room for you in the first place. If you have a particular doctor in mind, you will want to choose the hospital where he or she works. Other than that, the best way to make your final decision is by researching specific information about the available options. At the end of the day, good care is available at big hospitals and private ones alike.