Nobody wants to go home from the hospital only to be readmitted within a few weeks. But that revolving door is very common in conditions like heart failure, where the patient’s heart muscle doesn’t pump effectively after it has been weakened by heart attack or other heart disease.
The open secret of the hospital industry is that the financial incentives of Medicare and private insurers are tilted toward keeping that revolving door going. Hospitals that actually invest money in following patients after they leave the hospital to try to keep them healthy find that they lose money on this follow-up care. Reed Abelson of the New York Times wrote a report describing how progressive hospitals that have tried to keep their patients from readmission have lost millions of dollars in the process. Those include the Park Nicollet Health Services in Minnesota and Catholic Healthcare Partners in Cincinnati.
One lesson from this story is that patients don’t have to wait for medical payment reform to get better care and avoid the revolving door. If you or someone in your family has heart failure, here are the early warning signs that symptoms may be worsening and a doctor or nurse should be called:
* Weight gain. Patients need to weigh themselves every day. Sudden weight gain often means a buildup of fluids caused by the heart not pumping effectively.
* Shortness of breath. Fluid buildup often is most apparent in the lungs and is signaled by being out of breath.
* Ankle swelling. Another place where fluid buildup can be spotted early.
A phone call to the nurse can result in an adjustment of medication that may ease the problem. If that doesn’t work, a visit to the doctor’s office might be in order. The goal is to intervene before a crisis develops and you have to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
If your doctor already has a system in place that helps you monitor yourself at home, that means you have a top-quality doctor. If you have a hard time getting such a monitoring system going with your doctor, then it might be time to switch to someone who is more responsive.
Patrick Malone discusses how to find a top primary care doctor in his new book, The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst