Information obtained from children themselves regarding the characteristics of the ideal hospital that ensure well-being during a hospital stay is scarce. Here, we report the opinions, perceptions, and expectations of 700 children and adolescents about their experiences, assessed through a mixed-method research approach with age-appropriate questionnaires, three open-ended questions, and an analysis of optional pictorial and textual narratives. Most children indicated that, while they acknowledged the expertise of hospital staff, they also noted several shortcomings, e.g., insufficiently understandable medical information as well as emotional and cognitive support. The continuity of schooling and the right to suffer as little as possible were also critical issues. Adolescents valued in particular the quality of care and services provided, the hospital’s adherence to equality and non-discrimination rights, and protection systems but negatively perceived several aspects related to play and participation. Significant differences in the co-occurrences of the most frequently used text terms with the keywords “hospital” and “child/adolescent” between age groups highlight variations in the way patients perceive and articulate their experiences within the hospital setting depending on the cognitive processes linked to age. In drawings, prevailing attention was placed on the physical context of the hospital room, with figures expressing mostly negative emotions. Specifically, in this regard, the main emotion in children was sadness, and, in adolescents, it was fear. Overall, these insights are pivotal in the context of our research objectives as they shed light on the nuanced preferences, needs, and perspectives of children and adolescents during their hospital stays. Recognizing the identified shortcomings, we propose recommendations emphasizing the improvement of medical communication clarity, enhancement of emotional and cognitive support, and the improvement of programs to avoid instructional gaps during hospital stays. Addressing these specific needs is critical for a more comprehensive approach to pediatric healthcare provision.
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