Friday, March 28, 2014
The hospital-dependent patient
The New England Journal of Medicine published an article by David Reuben, MD, and Mary Tinetti, MD, both academic gerontologists, about patients who are unable to stay out of the hospital. The two physicians study the problems of old people, and are of the opinion that most of these “hospital dependent” patients are elderly. Certainly some of them are, but in my experience a surprising number are just chronically ill, usually also poor and with home situations unequal to their vast medical needs. Drs. Tinetti and Reuben are apparently studying these patients, thinking about solutions and now focusing us on this special population.
Hospitals potentially risk not being paid for patients who return to the hospital with new or persistent diseases within a short time of discharge. (I wrote an article on the history of this several months ago which points out some of the same issues that Dr. Reuben and Dr. Tinetti mention as well as how this fits in with the history of Medicare. Not as dry as it sounds. You should check it out.) Physicians who readmit patients after less than a 30 day hiatus are made to feel that they have participated in some sort of failure of management. Sometimes they have, but sometimes that isn’t the case at all. If a patient is readmitted with an illness that is still troublesome, but clearly improving out of the hospital, for which the patient has visited the emergency department only for reassurance, this is a failure of management, due to unfamiliarity with the patient’s history, often because the doctors in charge haven’t really read the chart, reviewed the history or talked to the patient. If a patient is readmitted because treatment has led to a preventable complication, that is a failure of management. If the readmission could have been prevented by a timely visit to an outpatient physician, this is a system failure of some kind and potentially avoidable. If the patient returns, however, because he or she is just too sick and fragile to remain well outside of a hospital, there is no failure, other than that expectation of success was overly optimistic.
The reason that we have hospital-dependent patients is that our hospitals are really quite good at keeping people alive, even when they are balanced on a knife edge of medical stability. Twenty-four hour attentive nursing and frequent visits by physicians, respiratory and physical therapists, dietitians, patient educators and social workers along with spare-no-cost life-saving technology is wondrously effective at shoring up the nearly dead. For many people, though, life without all of this is hard or impossible, so after a few days at home or in a nursing home, they will return to the hospital to be saved again.
Solutions involve difficult decisions. Is it worth the staggering amount of cash it takes to keep people in marginal health marginally healthy? How can one enter into the discussion of allowing natural death with a patient who feels mostly pretty good with ordinary hospital care? Herein lies the fallacy. Once we get to this point, hospital dependency, it is hard to back off. The trick is to not get there in the first place.
Most people who are independent and in full possession of their faculties do not want to be a burden on others. There are many moments between this point and full dependency when decisions could be made to withhold life prolonging medical care, and it is important that we present patients with these options without making them feel that they need to at least try what we have to offer. Although we as physicians are becoming more accepting of withdrawing life support or at least not intensifying it as people become desperately ill, most of us feel justified in allowing natural death only in people who have become truly miserable. Our patients, however, would usually prefer not to be truly miserable ever.
Many of our hospital dependent patients have survived some last ditch attempt at keeping them alive. Given the opportunity to do it all again, from the standpoint of their well selves, many would say no. It is interesting, though, that from the standpoint of being rescued and now dependent, many patients will continue to undergo painful and progressively disabling medical treatments until at last nothing will work.
I’m wondering if it is possible to end our love affair with medicine that defies death in our waning years. Might it be acceptable, at least sometimes, to allow our patients to die without a diagnosis? No cause of death. Death certificates could say “old age” or “natural causes” without further clarification. When death comes knocking, sometimes, if the time is ripe, we might let him in the front door, bid our loved ones goodbye and depart. Or have we as a society really decided that lengthening life is pretty much always a good thing? If we have, hospital dependent patients will be increasingly part of our jobs. Shaming ourselves when they are readmitted is misguided and very unlikely to change anything.
Janice Boughton, MD, ACP Member, practiced in the Seattle area for four years and in rural Idaho for 17 years before deciding to take a few years off to see more places, learn more about medicine and increase her knowledge base and perspective by practicing hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling. Disturbed by various aspects of the practice of medicine that make no sense and concerned about the cost of providing health care to every American, she blogs at Why is American Health Care So Expensive?, where this post originally appeared.
Contact ACP Internist
Send comments to ACP Internist staff at email@example.com.
- QD: News Every Day--'White coat effect' greater fo...
- ONC health IT curriculum materials are moving
- Residents and students want 'old school'
- QD: News Every Day--Smartphone app may support pos...
- Obamacare: Read your new plan carefully
- QD: News Every Day--E-cigarettes may not help with...
- To vape or not to vape
- QD: News Every Day--Try an indirect approach for i...
- Can we unmuddle mammography?
- Two different worlds: HIT vs. real-life, frontline...
Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.
And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
Controversies in Hospital
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.
David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.
Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.
Reflections of a Grady
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.
The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.
Technology in (Medical)
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.
Peter A. Lipson,
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.
Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.
World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.
Other blogs of note:
American Journal of
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.