Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories

Qui est “in”, qui est “out”?

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I was listening to the radio on the way to work, and from the regular accident reports, the words caught my attention… again: “The driver remains in the hospital under observation“.

Now, when I was less obsessive about uncovering the use of language as a bureaucratic weapon, I would have thought that this was just a descriptive term–hospital stay just to make sure that the driver was not hurt more badly than originally suspected. But since I have been watching people in hospitals for some time, the first thing that leaps into my mind when I hear the words “observation” and “hospital” in the same sentence is this: does the consumer know that he/she has not been admitted as an inpatient?

To most people, and to me when I am in a rational mood, this seems ridiculous. If I were sick enough to venture near an hospital, I would not have doubts once they got me out of the emergency department about whether I was in or out. I have a band on my wrist; I am in a bed upstairs: I have been admitted.

But of course, anyone who works in a hospital, or who has been through this already, knows very well that this is an incredibly naive assumption. In fact, as I mentioned in my last post, Medicare is aware enough of the confusion that they have an informational page to inform consumers to ask about admission status.

For Medicare, and therefore for other insurers, it makes a tremendous difference whether a person is inpatient or outpatient, an A and B type difference, a copay type difference, and the consequences can be very ugly, especially if a consumer goes in expecting any services after the hospital stay, be they visiting nurses or short-term rehabilitation.

This is the sort of thing that upsets me tremendously when I visit people who are already sick or injured–not at their optimum speed for figuring things out. The rules may well be there, but the rules are confusing–especially for people who do not already spend enormous amounts of time thinking about hospitals or insurance. And honestly, other than those who really love the healthcare world and work in it, who would want to spend all their time deciphering Medicare?

This is not a new concern, of course, this crackdown on hospitals that may get soft on their admission policies. In fact, it is rather difficult as I see it for a doctor to override the decision–which is aided by software like McKesson’s Interqual.

It is not that I believe people should remain in hospitals longer than they need to be, or that hospitals should be providing respite to caregivers. But not unlike the use of emergency rooms for non-emergency primary-care concerns, hospital inpatient rooms may easily be the repository for people whose needs have gone unmet for some time in the community, due to the woeful lack of resources for long-term care.

And lest anyone think that by long-term care, I mean nursing homes, let me be clear: I mean support in the community, long-term support for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Without this support, people get sicker, have accidents, and die. Pardon me if that sounds melodramatic, but in my experience, I have to say–anecdotally–that it is true.

But given what we have to work with, which are people who most likely would rather not be in hospitals, the least we could do is to be clear about how we are treating them. I do not believe it would make people happy to have someone explain, “Now, Mr. Smith, just to explain, we are moving you upstairs to a room, but under observation status. That means that your insurance will (or will not)…”

Well, that is a tough conversation, isn’t it? And to continue, “And unless we admit you later, it also means that you will be discharged back home with no extra services.” And then, of course, we should ask Mr. Smith if he understands.

And chances are, he will not. Which is why advocates filed a lawsuit challenging the policy last November.

And yet, we continue to put people into hospital beds, observe them, and let them fret about the 20% when they get home.

There is a difficult balance when a system does not work well to meet the needs of its consumers. It is very easy to blame people whose lifestyles contribute to their poor health–and accurate often enough. But where is the support to monitor early stages of illness? to spend the time necessary to answer a concern? to involve consumers in a system that does not terrify them?

Most people do not ever want to be admitted as inpatients into the hospital. They do not want to be there under observation. They do not want to go to emergency departments. Hell, they want to stay away from that place!

And the truth is that at some point, we all will probably be in one or all of these situations. It should be rare.

It is not rare: we ignore our health, and we fear illness. We fear death.

Or more precisely, we fear feeling powerless.

And not just powerless in the face of illness or disability itself.

Consider this: many people hate checkups, and some do not even have primary care at all. Why? well… think of the power dynamic. It is so easy to forget once you feel comfortable with doctors, and with the healthcare system in general.  But for everyone else, could it be that many people ignore their health because they feel powerless and ashamed in the relationship they have always had with healthcare providers?

And when we keep confusing people and sending them bills that they do not understand, who can blame them?

Written by Only Anecdotal

14 May 2012 at 4:17am

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