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What is a Hospital Bed?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A hospital bed is a specialized bed which has been designed to meet the needs of the hospital environment. There are a number of features which distinguish a hospital bed from a regular bed, and these features also tend to make hospital beds more costly. On occasion, people need hospital beds for home use, typically because they are caring for invalids. Most commonly, these beds are leased by companies which maintain medical equipment for this purpose, although they can also be purchased.

The most distinctive feature of a hospital bed is that it is fully adjustable. Hospital beds typically can be adjusted in a wide range of ways to support a patient's back, make it easier to perform procedures, and for various other purposes. A basic hospital bed may be split into two sections which can be raised in various ways, and more sophisticated beds have additional sections for the purpose of making very precise adjustments to meet the specific needs of a patient.

Hospital beds also typically have rails, which are designed to prevent patients from rolling out. These rails can be raised and lowered to perform procedures or to make patients feel more comfortable. Lowering the rails also allows hospital staff to transfer patients from beds to gurneys, such as those used to transport patients to the operating room for procedures. Many hospital beds are also movable so that patients can be relocated with minimal disturbance.

Typically the head of a hospital bed has a control panel which allows hospital staff to make adjustments to the bed. Patients can also use the control panel to do things like call a nurse in the event of an emergency. The bed may also have poles for the purpose of hanging bags of intravenous fluids, and it may include drawers to store various tools needed for procedures. There is also a space at the foot of the bed for the patient's chart.

As you might imagine, most hospital beds require electricity to run the adjustment mechanisms and control panels, although some older beds can also be cranked by hand into various positions. Some hospital beds come with sophisticated computer systems which can be used to do things like save bed settings which are comfortable for the patient or necessary for procedures. Learning to use these systems can take time, and hospital staff usually discourage patients and friends from adjusting the bed themselves.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Sara007 — On Jun 30, 2011

If you have a child that is in need of a home hospital bed, you can actually order custom ones that are not only a suitable size, but that also come in themes.

Being sick can be traumatic for both the family and the child who is ill, so having a sterile looking piece of equipment in the house can be functional, but not always welcome. The theme hospital beds try to get around this, by making the beds useful and cute. They offer themes such as a jungle or castle, and try to make the fact that it isn't a regular bed less obvious.

While the custom hospital beds are a bit more expensive than plain hospital beds it is worth it if you want to create a more comfortable environment and have a bit of extra cash.

By letshearit — On Jun 29, 2011

If you have an elderly loved one in your home that has problems with tumbling out of bed, purchasing a hospital bed can be a great investment. My grandmother used to have a restless sleep and would sometimes fall from her bed. This was quite a problem, as she sometimes would get injured from the falls.

The hospital beds have railings, which can be put up during the time your loved one is sleeping. After we purchased a hospital bed it was much easier for our grandmother to sleep without worry. If you are concerned about the metal being uncomfortable to sleep against, you can buy padding for the rails, which is great if you know the person in the bed will be up against the railings.

By ahain — On Jun 29, 2011

Is there any special place I can look where the majority of people post their used hospital beds for sale?

I am going to have a major surgery done in the next month -- hip replacement surgery -- and the doctor tells me that the recovery period will involve being bedridden for months while I heal. Thanks to that intimidating bit of information, I'm in the market for a hospital bed to spend that time on.

According to my doctor, hospital beds also serve other useful functions besides giving you somewhere to lay. They are shaped the way they are and able to adjust the way they are so that you can shift into positions you just couldn't end up in in an ordinary bed.

Anyway, I'm on the lookout for a hospital bed for sale. Apparently Medicare B will cover rental of a hospital bed, but they won't cover the full electric one, and I want the full electric one, so I'm buying my own.

By aishia — On Jun 28, 2011

@VivAnne - I don't know about the hospital beds in China, but I know for a fact that in the United States, they will give a child a full size hospital bed.

My nephew went into the hospital last year for dehydration caused by a bad case of the flu; he just couldn't keep anything down, even sips of water. The doctors put him on an IV drip to rehydrate him, and he was confined to a hospital bed for a few days before he could leave.

Anyway, he was in a full-sized hospital bed. It was way too big for him, too -- he was only 6 at the time! The hospital bed itself was one of those higher-tech new ones that had electronic adjustments.

That doctor's visit irritated me, because they wouldn't let my sister sleep in the hospital bed with her son, even though the bed was plenty large enough. Instead she had to sleep on a cot beside the bed.

By VivAnne — On Jun 28, 2011

There was recently a lecture at my college from six retired nurses who would go to other countries and volunteer their time providing medical care free to children who needed it. In the pictures from the hospitals that they went to, I couldn't help but notice that the hospital beds looked very different.

The hospital beds in the country they were in, China I believe, were old narrow beds with metal frames -- you know, the kind with thin metal bars going up and down on the headboards? They were painted simple white over the metal, and they had narrow hospital bed mattresses beneath them.

I'm curious if this style of bed is what they use because the medical technology there is outdated for hospital beds and such, or because it was a pediatric ward. What do you guys think Do they use different kinds of hospital beds when they are treating children? It does seem kind of overkill to give a child a full-size bed.

By gimbell — On Jun 27, 2011

@ceilingcat - The old-fashioned crank beds may seem like a hassle now, but imagine how much they would be appreciated if the power went out for awhile! The newfangled electronic adjustments on the newer beds simply wouldn't work.

As for discomfort, JessicaLynn, it sounds like your friend might need a hospital bed with an air mattress. Depending on what her condition is, it probably wouldn't be a problem to use one of those. If her back is broken or something, she probably needs more support, but an air mattress is great for people who are stuck in bed and can still turn over and such.

By backdraft — On Jun 27, 2011

@ceilingcat - Good idea. A few years ago my grandmother passed away and she spent the last few months of her life in a hospital bed that had been set up in her living room. She was adamant about not going to the hospital, she wanted to stay in her home until the very end.

Luckily they are a number of medical supply rental companies that allow you to rent medical equipment for home use. We rented her a really nice hospital bed that facilitated her treatment and comfortable passing in a number of different ways. If we had not been able to get a hold of such great equipment, it is unlikely that she would have been able to stay in her house. It was important to her so it became important to us.

By ceilingcat — On Jun 27, 2011

@JessicaLynn - That sounds great except for the uncomfortable part. We had to rent a hospital bed for my grandmother to use awhile ago when she broke her back. The one we got was definitely not as high tech as the one you're talking about! We had to adjust it by hand and let me tell you it wasn't easy. Especially since we were trying not to jostle a person with a broken back!

I think if I ever need to rent a hospital bed for home use again I'm going to do a little more research and make sure we get a nice one.

By JessicaLynn — On Jun 27, 2011

I recently visited a friend in the hospital and I was amazed at how high tech the bed was! My friend was provided with a remote control that controlled both the television and the bed. Pretty much every aspect of the bed could be controlled by remote: raising, lowering, etc. There was also a control panel at the foot of the bed that could be used to perform various tasks such as weighing the patient!

However even with all this technology my friend said the medical hospital bed was still pretty uncomfortable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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