The Ultimate Guide to Hospital Classification: Understanding Healthcare Infrastructure

There are different tiers or areas of health care practice within the larger health system. They are frequently compared to a pyramid, where three or even four tiers of healthcare stand for progressively higher levels of technical sophistication and specialization, typically at the expense of higher treatment expenses. As individuals move from this first level into more advanced forms of specialized care at secondary, tertiary, and now also quaternary care, the number of patients seen at the first level of primary care, which is typically the first interaction with the healthcare system, decreases.

The terms “primary,” “secondary,” “tertiary,” and “quaternary” allude to the nature of the patient-provider connection as well as the complexity and severity of the health issues that are treated. Together, the healthcare professionals that make up these four tiers of healthcare offer medical services such assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and referrals to the appropriate level of care according to the individual patient’s needs.

Basics of Hospital Classification 

Hospitals can be classified in a number of ways; popular categories include size, financing source, and kind of care provided. It can be a little perplexing, though, because these classifications aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, you can locate a tiny, private acute-care hospital in a remote area.


The size of the hospital is among the most apparent metrics to compare different hospital kinds. The number of beds a hospital has determines its size. Depending on who you ask, a hospital can be classified as small, medium, or large, but generally speaking, the lines fall into categories like this:
– Small hospitals have less than one hundred beds.
– Medium-sized hospitals have anywhere from 100 to 499 beds.
– In large hospitals, there are 500 beds or more.
Hospital location and size typically match. Larger hospitals are typically found only in urban regions, while rural hospitals are typically much smaller. community.

Care term

Whether or not a hospital specialized in long-term care is another possible point of differentiation. To be clear, acute care is offered by the great majority of hospitals. This indicates that their main patient population consists of those with illnesses, diseases, trauma, surgeries, postpartum care, and surgical recoveries.

In addition to being accredited as acute-care facilities, long-term hospitals (LTCHs) focus on treating patients who, on average, require more than 25 days of treatment and are typically moved from intensive care units (ICUs) or critical care units. These patients frequently suffer from multiple serious conditions, and they occasionally require care for head injuries, pain management, or respiratory therapy. With enough time and attention, long-term patients can often recover and go back to their homes.

Rural and Urban

Rural hospitals are often smaller, with frequently fewer than 100 beds, as was shown in the section on size. “Critical access” hospitals are even more rare; they have less than 25 beds and are at least 35 miles away from the closest hospital.

Given that they are located in highly populated areas with a variety of hospitals available to patients, urban hospitals are typically larger and more competitive. Due to this competition, a large number of metropolitan hospitals have specialized, either by providing more options for treatment or by improving the patient experience.

Teaching and non-teaching

Teaching hospitals are associated with medical schools, nursing schools, or universities. In teaching hospitals, medical professionals such as department heads, certified physicians, and other medical staff supervise interns, students, and fellows as they work and learn.

Non-teaching hospitals don’t collaborate with any universities or medical schools; they exclusively provide care to the local population. Do they now outperform teaching hospitals as a result? Not always. In order to give students greater experiences, teaching hospitals typically handle sicker patients. These hospitals frequently carry out clinical trials aimed at evaluating the efficacy of novel medicines, as well as academic medical research. The fact that many clinical trial participants choose these less-proven treatments because they may have few other options can distort the results for their patients.

Trauma level

Hospitals are categorized according to budget and purpose, but they are also assessed according to how well-equipped they are to handle trauma from falls, accidents, gunshot wounds, and other severe traumas. There are common denominators even though state-by-state requirements differ for the trauma categories. To further understand these classifications, let’s examine the extremes of the trauma center spectrum.

Level I trauma hospitals are able to offer complete care for catastrophic injuries, including prevention and rehabilitation. In-house coverage is offered by general surgeons as well as specialists in orthopedics, neurosurgery, plastic surgery, anesthesia, and other critical care. A minimum number of severely damaged patients must be under the hospital’s care each year.

On the other end of the trauma center spectrum, Level-V centers are able to offer initial assessment, stabilization, and diagnostic services by one or more trauma nurses and doctors. If necessary, they can then transport patients to affiliated Levels I through III trauma hospitals. Surgery and critical care treatments might be offered by Level-V centers, although this is not a given.

Levels of Healthcare

Primary care

Primary health care, which addresses the bulk of a person’s health requirements throughout their lifespan, including physical, emotional, and social well-being, is a people-centered rather than disease-centered service. When a patient has medical requirements or concerns, primary care is typically the first level of care they receive. It adopts an integrated strategy and covers palliative care, rehabilitation, treatment, avoiding illnesses, and health promotion. First contact care can involve a variety of health care providers, such as a pharmacy professional, a physiotherapist, speech and language therapist, etc., depending on the particular health care system in your nation. For the majority of patients, this entails seeing a primary care physician, also known as a general practitioner or family physician.

People may currently obtain their first-contact care, if it is accessible at all, from non-medical staff in many parts of the world, especially in poor nations. These individuals may have had a little education in health promotion. 

One of the most important aspects of primary care is continuity of care; patients typically want to see the same doctor for checkups and preventative care, health education, and initial consultations for new medical issues. Therefore, in primary health care settings as opposed to tertiary and secondary care settings, the connection between the patient and the provider can often last for a long time. Providers frequently monitor a patient’s development and medical records for a number of years, and in some cases, for the majority of the patient’s lifetime.

Given that primary care encompasses the broadest range of health care, including patients of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographical origins, as well as patients who want to preserve optimal health and patients with a variety of acute and chronic physical, mental, and social health issues, including multiple chronic diseases, a primary care practitioner must have an extensive depth of knowledge in many areas. Within their scope of practice, primary healthcare providers are able to identify and manage common medical disorders. They may also determine the urgency of a given condition and, if necessary, transfer a patient to another physician.

Research has indicated that primary care physicians contribute positively to the overall health system by improving patient outcomes and access to healthcare services, which typically result in fewer ER visits and hospital stays.

According to the World Health Organization, providing basic primary care is a crucial part of an accessible primary health care plan. Three elements should be included in a primary care approach:

Providing for people’s health requirements throughout their lives; tackling the wider determinants of health via multisectoral policy and action; and Encouraging people to take responsibility for their own health as individuals, families, and communities.

Secondary care

Secondary Health Care refers to the specialized medical attention and assistance that physicians and other health care providers offer to patients who have been referred to them for particular expert care. This care is typically given in hospitals. While some services may be provided in the community, secondary care services are often housed in hospitals or clinics. Planned surgeries, specialized clinics like cardiology or nephrology clinics, or rehabilitation programs like physiotherapy can be among them. A broad spectrum of experts are included in secondary healthcare, including gynecologists, cardiologists, psychologists, obstetricians, dermatology specialists, and pediatricians.

Secondary care is more focused on treating patients with more complex or severe medical disorders that need for a specialist’s assistance. It is more specialized.

To put it simply, secondary care refers to receiving treatment from a provider with more specialized knowledge of your problem. Treatment for cancer, treatment for pneumonia and other serious and unexpected infections, and care for shattered bones are a few medical problems that require secondary care services.

In certain health systems, medical professionals may see patients without a referral and patients can refer themselves to the service; this is most prevalent in countries with private health care or self-pay systems. In other health systems, patients may be needed to see their primary physician for a referral before being able to access secondary care. 

Occupational therapists, therapists for speech, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, dietitians, and other allied health specialists typically operate in secondary care and can be reached through physician or patient referral. 

Tertiary care

As a step up from secondary healthcare, tertiary care is described as highly specialized medical care that is typically given over an extended period of time and includes sophisticated and advanced diagnostics, procedures, and treatments carried out by medical specialists in cutting-edge facilities. Consequently, consultants working at tertiary care facilities have greater access to specialized tools and knowledge.

Depending on the size and resources of the nation, tertiary care may be provided at the regional or national level. Because of this, most people might need to go to a tertiary care facility, which could lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment as well as an increase in medical expenses. 

Although some services can be rendered as outpatients, primary and secondary care providers can refer patients for tertiary care services. The majority of treatment is delivered as an inpatient setting.

Specialist cancer care, neurosurgery, heart surgery, transplant assistance, plastic surgery, treatment for serious burns, specialized neonatology, hospice care, and other intricate medical and surgical procedures are a few examples of tertiary care services.

Quaternary care

Quaternary care is described as a continuation of tertiary care in relation to highly specialized, highly accessible advanced medical levels that are typically only provided in a very small number of national or international centers. Quaternary care includes certain rare diagnostic and surgical treatments as well as experimental medicine.

Similar to tertiary care, quaternary care also frequently serves a huge geographic area and serves people both domestically and internationally, especially when it comes to treating extremely rare medical disorders for which there are few patients worldwide.

Large distances could delay the patient’s diagnosis and treatment, complicating coordinating the delivery of care across every medical professional involved in the patient’s care. This could have a particularly negative effect on the patient after discharge, when the patient’s primary care physician is usually once again responsible for their care. In addition to lengthier hospital stays and higher fatality rates, quaternary care centers may also see patients with more complex or uncommon diseases.


These classifications should be taken into account along with any recent adjustments to insurance and federal and private funding, as the medical landscape is always evolving. You may be curious about the individuals that work in hospitals to keep them running smoothly now that you know which hospital performs what.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: Can a hospital belong to more than one classification category?

Hospitals are categorized as government, specialty, or general based on how they get funding. In an educational hospital, students studying health sciences and supplementary healthcare are taught alongside patient care. A clinic is a common term for a health science facility that is smaller than a hospital.

Q2: How do specialty hospitals differ from general hospitals in terms of services?

Although a specialty hospital is recognized in the community for providing a particular kind of care, it can treat a wide range of ailments. For this reason, the hospital frequently receives additional financing from public and private sources, and it usually finances research initiatives related to its area of expertise.

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