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When Pushes for Hospital Efficiency Go Too Far

One Oregon hospital is making national news because of the response of some of the hospital’s doctors to efforts that were proposed by hospital administrators to increase the efficiency of the hospital. When hospital administrators announced they intended to outsource the hospital’s hospitalists (doctors who oversee hospital patients’ care) to an outside firm, the hospitalists of PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center banded together and unionized – one of the first unions in the country composed of doctors in a single specialty.

Efficiency is Desirable, but Not at Any Cost

The hospitalists that unionized were not opposed to seeking increases in efficiency but they did have qualms about how these increases were to be pursued. Hospital administrators at Sacred Heart and around the country have sought to achieve greater efficiency by providing financial incentives to doctors and medical staff who achieve or make meaningful contributions to goals such as:

  • Reducing the time it takes for a patient to be discharged after being admitted to the hospital;
  • Reducing rates of hospital-acquired infections;
  • Reducing rates of readmission; and
  • Increasing the number of patients that a hospitalist sees in a given day.

The hospitalists contend in part that while measurable progress is being made on some of these goals, patient health is not necessarily improving. To the hospitalists, having sufficient quality time with each patient to make an accurate diagnosis outweighs any financial incentive they might forfeit by failing to see a certain number of patients in a given day. When hospital administrators claim that hospitalists have little “skin in the game” in that they are not contributing to greater financial savings and incentives for the hospital, the hospitalists reply that their “skin in the game” consists of their professional licenses and reputations.

How Hospital Efficiency Can Hurt You

As noted by the hospitalists from Sacred Heart, achieving benchmarks of efficiency does not necessarily equate to better patient health overall. Despite working toward achieving goals like lower readmission rates and a larger number of patients seen in a day, an individual patient may not see any benefit to his or her health and may actually be hurt by these efforts. A doctor who has less time to spend talking with a patient has less time to learn about that patient’s symptoms and other key information that might be helpful in arriving at an accurate diagnosis. An inaccurate diagnosis can subject the patient to unnecessary or harmful tests and treatment, increase the amount of pain and suffering the patient endures, increase the time it takes for the patient to be discharged from the hospital, and/or reduce the patient’s opportunity for survival.

Any injury that occurs to you while you are a patient at a hospital or under a doctor’s care should be investigated by an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. The Philadelphia and New Jersey legal team at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. are able to review your case and help you determine your legal rights. As medical standards and accepted practices around the country change, it is important to have legal counsel that is familiar with these standards and knows how to show when and how complying with these standards unreasonably harms your health. Contact our firm today to discuss your medical injury case by calling (215) 567-3500 or completing our online form.

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