Articles Posted in Hospitals

CaseDeaton-300x169Even as economic inequity and inequality fuel a nationwide plague of “deaths of despair,” a runaway and inefficient health system hits Americans hard in their pocketbooks, in effect imposing an $8,000 annual tax on every household, a pair of leading economists say.

The crushing cost of the U.S. health system, exceeding $1 trillion a year, forces all Americans to pay this “tribute,” as if it were going to a foreign power, except this is a toll on themselves that we tolerate and allow, say Anne Case and Angus Deaton. The Princeton economists have reached this conclusion, as part of their research for their upcoming book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.”

Case told economists at a San Diego conference: “A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us.”

HowardUhospital-300x126Big hospitals keep getting bigger. But, contrary to what the suit-wearing MBAs may claim, the rising number of institutional mergers and acquisitions isn’t necessarily better for patients and their care.

At hospitals subjected to corporate wheeling and dealing, the quality of care got worse, or, at best, it stayed the same and didn’t improve, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported.

Researchers scrutinized federal data “from 2007 through 2016 on performance on four measures of quality of care … and data on hospital mergers and acquisitions occurring from 2009 through 2013,” they said. These measures, the Wall Street Journal reported, included: patient satisfaction; deaths within a month of entering the hospital; return trips to the hospital within a month of leaving; and how often some heart, pneumonia, and surgery patients got recommended care. They looked at 246 hospitals involved in M&A activity,  controlling their findings with data from 1,986 institutions not similarly affected.

drugslockedup-300x264Hospitals, clinics, and other health care settings — and those who staff them — aren’t immune to the ravages of the opioid crisis and its related abuse of prescription and illicit drugs. For patients, their caregivers’ addictions can have serious consequences, including a less-discussed nightmare: diversions of their drugs.

Lauren Lollini, a psychotherapist and a patient-safety advocate, has penned a powerful and scary Op-Ed for Stat, a health and medical news site. She describes how, while undergoing a relatively routine kidney stone removal at a respected Denver hospital, she was infected with hepatitis C — a draining and chronic liver disease that is blood-borne and is often associated with drug abusers. Lollini, however, had been healthy and did not use drugs. So, how did she get so sick? As she explained:

“[An investigation by the] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that I and at least 18 others had been infected with hepatitis C by Kristen Parker, a technician at Rose Medical Center who had tested positive for the disease before she was hired. She stole patients’ fentanyl-filled syringes off medication trays, injected herself with the painkiller, then refilled the syringes with saline. In the summer of 2009 — about three months after I learned I had hepatitis C — Parker was arrested in one of the biggest hospital drug diversion incidents to date. In 2010, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison.”

pickpocket-300x200If department stores, car mechanics, or restaurants billed their customers in the same way that hospitals and doctors do, prosecutors might have their hands full. That’s because what patients now accept in sheepish fashion as simple “errors” or misstatements or curious charges on their medical bills more correctly ought to be called something else: fraud.

That’s the reluctant but tough view now taken by Elisabeth Rosenthal, an editor, journalist, and onetime practicing doctor.

She has written an Op-Ed for the New York Times, her former employer, in which she recounted how she long has reported on health care costs and economics, including in her much-praised book, “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.” She said she has listened to too many patient complaints, as well as experienced problems of her own, to keep allowing establishment medicine to deem its relentless chiseling, oops, a little mistake.

lacasamhrc-300x200With mental health services stretched thin and failing to fill significant need, it may be more distressing still for the public to confront growing evidence of big problems in existing facilities that try to treat those with serious psychiatric ills.

The Los Angeles Times, based on its investigation, has found “nearly 100 preventable deaths over the last decade at California psychiatric facilities, including at La Casa Mental Health Rehabilition Center  (shown here). It marks the first public count of deaths at California’s mental health facilities and highlights breakdowns in care at these hospitals as well as the struggles of regulators to reduce the number of deaths.”

The newspaper said it “submitted more than 100 public record requests to nearly 50 county and state agencies to obtain death certificates, coroner’s reports and hospital inspection records with information about these deaths.” Reporter Soumya Karlamangla said she had to look far and wide for data on problems in psychiatric facilities because, “No single agency keeps tabs on the number of deaths at psychiatric facilities in California, or elsewhere in the nation.”

vcuhospital-300x200A  Virginia hospital has found an eyebrow-raising solution to some of  its struggles with elderly, poor, and sick patients who take up beds and medical resources that might generate more revenue and less headache for the institution: Administrators hired a law firm and turned to the courts to strip legal control over the frail seniors from their loved ones.

Over families’ objections, the seniors’ newly appointed guardians then allowed the patients to be moved out of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System hospital in Richmond and into poorly rated nursing homes. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:

“A yearlong investigation by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which involved analyzing more than 250 court cases and interviewing more than two dozen people, revealed that VCU Health System has taken hundreds of low-income patients to court over the past decade to remove their rights to make decisions about their medical care. This process, which frees up hospital beds at VCU Health System and saves thousands in uncompensated costs, often results in sick, elderly or disabled patients being placed in poorly rated nursing homes, sometimes against the wishes of their own family members. In these cases, VCU Health asks the court to grant an attorney at the ThompsonMcMullan law firm the power to make critical medical and life decisions for its patients. The court orders the attorney to represent the best interests of those patients, but the law firm continues to look out for the hospital’s interests on dozens of guardianship cases each year.”

ihs-300x197Although doctors, hospitals, and insurers may howl about the professional harms they claim to suffer due to medical malpractice lawsuits, research studies show that it’s just a tiny slice of MDs who  lose in court and must pay up for injuring patients. Further, the data show that the problem few doctors don’t rack up one, but two or three malpractice losses before they even start to see their work curtailed.

Common sense would suggest that if judges and juries find doctors’ conduct egregious enough to slap “frequent flyers” with multiple losing malpractice verdicts, these MDs might best be parted of the privilege of treating patients. Not only doesn’t that occur often enough, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown the terrible consequences that can result for patients and taxpayers alike when it doesn’t.

The federal government, the newspaper reported, long has struggled to provide promised care through the Indian Health Service (IHS) to those who live on rugged, spare, and sprawling reservation lands. This obligation to provide such medical services is embedded in the Constitution and old treaties. But if it’s tough to get doctors to practice in rural America — where the hours may be extra long and the pay decidedly lower than cities — it had become a nightmare for the IHS to fill its many vacancies.

shooting-300x201When it comes to key health concerns of the American public, President Trump and his administration have offered evidence anew that whatever they say may not last to the next political moment, that inaction is its own powerful kind of action, and that what officials say they’re doing may be exactly the opposite.

This is not intended as partisan commentary. It reflects the turn of a few news cycles and how Trump and his officials have dealt with:

  • The outbreak of serious lung illnesses and deaths tied to vaping

blawhospitalcostgrafic-300x174Tthe Trump Administration deserves credit for doing something right on hospital prices — but with what likely will be ineffective results.

The president and Alex Azar, the head of the sprawling Health and Human Services agency, have rolled out delayed new federal rules that will order hospitals, starting in 2021, to make public the discounted prices they negotiate with insurance companies and require insurers to allow patients to get advance estimates of their out-of-pocket costs before they see a doctor or go to the hospital.

Trump explained why, as reported by the New York Times, saying: “For decades, hospitals, insurance companies, lobbyists and special interests have hidden prices from consumers, so they could drive up costs for you, and you had no idea what was happening. You’d get bills that were unbelievable, and you’d have no idea why.”

clostridioides_difficile_369x285-300x232Federal officials have put out some scary new findings about the state of patients’ health in the 21st century: Superbugs may be more common and potent than previously believed. And we may now have plummeted into what experts are calling the perilous “post-antibiotic age.”

This all amounts to far more than a hypothetical menace. It could affect you if you get, for instance, a urinary tract infection. Or if you undergo a surgery, say, for a joint replacement or a C-section. Depending where and how you live, you may see the significance of this health problem if you contract tuberculosis or some sexually transmitted diseases.

As the news website Vox reported of the startling new information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Every 15 minutes, one person in the U.S. dies because of an infection that antibiotics can no longer treat effectively.”

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