Blog | Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yet more on when hospitals are more like hotels


Many folks criticize pharmaceutical companies for providing physicians' offices with free drug samples. They claim that this giveaway harms consumers because drug companies must raise their prices to cover the costs of these freebies. Of course, this is undeniable. Any business expense, such as payroll or advertising, has to be covered and is expectedly borne by the consumer. If a company chooses not to advertise, outsources manufacturing to a country with cheaper labor, offers limited benefits to its employees, then they can sell their product at a low price. In this hypothetical example, anemic sales may doom the company quickly.

Naturally, free samples are not really free. The rest of us pay for them. While this is true, I don't think it is evil. Unlike the U.S. government, at least drug companies are covering their costs and not simply borrowing money every year to meet budget. Interesting concept.

Two of the community hospitals I work at have undergone transformations. One is owned by the dominant health care behemoth in Cleveland and has just completed a near $200 million renovation and expansion. The other smaller hospital is one of the few remaining Cleveland area hospitals that are still independent. I'd like to sneak there at night and hoist up a "Live Free or Die" flag up the flagpole, to celebrate its independent streak, but I'm sure that there are video cameras everywhere and that I would be in violation of several bylaws. The apt punishment might be that I would have to spend a cold Cleveland night chained to the flagpole reading electronic medical record manuals out loud.

Both of these hospitals have private patient rooms that look more like hotel suites then hospital rooms. Patients are just a click away from work and play as there is wireless Internet. Why do patients need flat screen TVs? Perhaps, they emit healing humors to help speed recoveries. Forget about those hardback chairs next to patients' beds where visitors would stiffly sit. Now there is posh furniture to sink into. Artwork is everywhere. Every new hospital these days is equipped with an essential architectural structure, an atrium.

What's the angle here? Is this a marketing war between competing hospitals? Is the new comfort standard for a hospital similar to a high-end cruise ship? That gives me an idea. What if a hospital system purchased a cruise line to serve as a floating hospital across the high seas? I'm amazed we haven't seen this yet. Remember, you read it here first.

"Get that gallbladder out! Visit exciting ports of call! Enjoy world class entertainment! Splurge on our decadent midnight chocolate buffet!"

Where's the outrage here? Are these hundreds of millions of dollars helping sick people get well? Couldn't this money be directed to a more worthy objective? Why aren't healthcare reform-minded folks picketing and protesting? Or, does it make more sense to carp over free Nexium samples and pizza for the office staff?

It is true that physicians who have been actual patients gain a valuable perspective. I'm willing to make the sacrifice. Put me up in one of these carpeted, plush rooms with room service and soft music. It will be tough, but if it'll help me to be a better doctor, then I'm willing to endure the pain.

This post by Michael Kirsch, FACP, appeared at Get Better Health, a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.