Hospital Infections Spread, So Do Lawsuits

From the American College of Healthcare Executives –
Wisconsin Law Journal (WI) Online (12/01/08) Hsieh, Sylvia

The Oct. 1 Medicare rule preventing reimbursement for certain hospital-acquired infections reinforces the belief that such infections are not inevitable and boosts hospitals’ litigation risks. Medical malpractice lawsuits involving hospital-acquired infections are on the rise, and several already have resulted in multimillion-dollar awards. St. Louis attorney Mary Coffey of Coffey Nichols says, “A lot of lawyers think they can’t ever trace an infection and that getting an infection in a hospital is not necessarily negligent, which is true. But I would say you can prove it.” Coffey recently represented a 69-year-old man who contracted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus through an IV inserted in the ambulance after he had a heart attack. The case resulted in a $2.58 million verdict, with Coffey providing evidence of an infection in the patient’s IV site. She showed that healthcare providers failed to heed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that ambulance IVs should be replaced when the patient arrives at the hospital and that surgeons should not perform heart surgery on patients with remote site infections. Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths Chair Betsy McCaughy says hospitals can reduce litigation risks by instituting strategies to prevent hospital-acquired infections, using an antibiotic-treated backup catheter to guard against central line infections, for instance.

Uninsured Put Strain on Hospitals

From the NY Times, via the American College of Healthcare Executives:

According to a recent report from the American College of Emergency Physicians, U.S. emergency rooms already are overcrowded, causing significant and dangerously long wait times for patients and rerouting of ambulances. As the economy worsens and unemployed and uninsured patients increase their use of the emergency room, staff may find it difficult to properly treat heart attacks, broken bones and other traumas. Emergency rooms also are seeing an uptick in insured and elderly patients who do not have ready access to their primary care physicians. Hospitals’ emergency rooms are obligated to treat all patients regardless of their ability to pay, which leaves many facilities tasked with absorbing losses. Denver Health, for example, estimates that its unpaid care expenses will reach $300 million this year, up from $276 million last year. Some experts caution that declines in hospital traffic cited in July, August and September by the American Hospital Association were a temporary lull as patients avoided spending money on routine care and other medical expenses. Moreover, the influx of patients is causing increasing wait times for care, causing some emergency departments to take steps to reduce overcrowding while causing others to expand their facilities–which has resulted in attracting greater numbers of patients. According to Dr. Ann S. O’Malley of the Center for Studying Health System Change, emergency departments are “a kind of barometer of the general health of the rest of the system.”

Unhappy primary care doctors could be bad news for Idaho

From the Idaho Statesman:

The new study, commissioned by the Physicians’ Foundation, says nearly half of 150,000 primary care doctors want to quit or cut back within the next three years. Those doctors include pediatricians, family doctors and internal medicine doctors.

Piles of paperwork, increasingly complex health insurance rules and comparatively low incomes are the main reasons doctors want to move on.

About 1 in 9 US kids use alternative medicine

From the AP:

More than one in nine children and teens use herbal supplements or some other form of alternative medicine, the government said Wednesday, citing a new national survey. It’s the first time children’s use of such remedies, including acupuncture, meditation, and chiropractic care, has been measured. Adult use of alternative treatments remains about the same as it was in 2002 — more than one in three.