The general hospital, in its traditional form, has served as a teaching facility for internists, nurses and other health professionals. In addition to providing a venue for educational programs, it provides an environment in which the latest techniques can be introduced to physicians, and a place where experimental therapeutic measures can be tested. It also functions as a repository for specialized units, such as geropsychiatry, eating disorders, med-psych units and psychopharmacologic clinics.
Historically, the role of the general hospital in the development of mental health care has been limited because mental hospitals are able to attract more of the overall mental health funds than general hospitals. This has resulted in the psychiatric services at general hospitals being relegated to a subservient position. This is reflected in the limited funding available for the establishment of new facilities, or for the expansion of existing ones.
In the past, general hospitals have often been a source of psychiatric education. They have provided an opportunity for psychiatry to become more closely allied with medicine, a goal which has been pursued by the psychiatric profession in the face of increasing resistance from other medical specialties (23). New developments in brain sciences, immunology, radiology, genetics and molecular biology, together with standardized psychiatric diagnostic systems, have increased the likelihood of this reintegration of psychiatry into mainstream medicine.
A typical general hospital is a community-based facility with 300 to 500 beds. It has an organized medical staff, a professional staff of other health care providers and basic diagnostic equipment. It also has a pharmacy, laboratories and rehabilitation departments, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy, speech and language and dietetics. General hospitals may be affiliated with a university for undergraduate and postgraduate education of medical and other health professional students, but they are not necessarily teaching hospitals.
Traditionally, the staff of a general hospital has consisted of physicians and nurses who have been trained in both medicine and psychiatry. The psychiatric faculty at a general hospital has had a significant influence on the overall direction of mental health care in the community and has provided many of the basic ideas for the development of modern psychiatry.
In addition, psychiatric programs at general hospitals have had an impact on the general public by raising awareness of important health issues such as sexual responsibility; HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases; tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse; breast cancer; sexual child abuse; and organ donation.
The first episode of the American television show General Hospital aired on April 1, 1963. The soap opera follows the lives of the residents of Port Charles, a fictional town in New York. The show has had many incarnations over the years and is one of the longest-running daily serials in the world. Skye Quartermaine, played by Robin Christopher, is the central character in the storyline. Other major characters include her brothers, Michael and A.J., her father Alan and stepmother Monica. The show has been praised by national organizations for its accurate portrayals of many real-life health issues.