Patient “Traffic Jams” After Surgery Should Not Compromise Care

Even when a surgery goes well, the risk of complications remains very real if a patient does not receive proper post-surgery care.

In other words, surgical error can include much more than outrageous incidents of operating on the wrong-body part. Patients can also be harmed when they are rushed home from the hospital after surgery and encounter infections or other problems.

Two separate research studies done at the University of Maryland show a troubling correlation between hospital readmission rates after surgery and how many of the beds at the hospitals were filled at the time patients were discharged.

Prof. Bruce Golden, who oversaw the research, summarized the findings as follows. “Discharge decisions are made with bed-capacity constraints in mind,” he said.

“Patient traffic jams present hospitals and medical teams with major, practical concerns, but they can find better answers than sending the patient home at the earliest possible moment,” he added.

The researchers analyzed patient movement following discharge from a large medical center in the U.S. The variables in the study included rate of hospital occupancy, level of medical staffing, the total volume of surgery, and the day of the week.

The findings were that those patients who were discharged at peak times for hospital occupancy were 50 percent more likely to be readmitted within three days for additional treatment.

Why are hospitals seemingly so eager to discharge patients so soon after surgery? At the core of the answer is the profit motive in medicine. Surgeons and hospitals have numerous incentives to perform as many surgeries as they realistically can.

But that doesn’t mean they should allow patient traffic jams to compromise patient care.

Source: “Revenue-Driven Surgery Drives Patients Home Too Early,” Science Blog, 5-12-12

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