Ventilators have become prized in hospitals across the U.S. and beyond because they are desperately needed to treat very ill Covid-19 patients. But they are also feared for the damage they can inflict, and for the slim odds of survival they offer.
Michelle Fay Cortez and Olivia Carville report that it’s not yet clear what the long-term consequences ventilators have for those lucky enough to recover after having been on one.
Facing shortages of critical equipment, medical workers must make life-or-death decisions about who receives care. WSJ’s Joe Palazzolo reports from an emergency room that’s running short on ventilators, and Chris Weaver explains the plans hospitals are putting in place to decide who gets them.
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at NYU’s School of Medicine, talks about how hospitals think about these difficult choices.
NEJM talks with Dr. Julian Flores, who works in a Broward County, Florida, emergency room.
When he was interviewed, the count of Covid-19 cases stood at 412, less than 12 hours later, the new number was 505. He’s expecting the wave to hit hard there. Broward is home to Fort Lauderdale (think spring break) and Pompano Beach (think aging retirees). Couple those demographics with a lack of easy testing for the virus, and you’ve got a worrisome situation.
From a The BMJ Views and Reviews article by David Oliver (February 5, 2020):
Last year the Lancet published a paper on the impact of wearing gowns, surveying 928 adult patients and carrying out structured interviews with 10 patients. Over half (58%) reported wearing the gown despite feeling uncertain that it was a medical necessity. Gown design was considered inadequate, with 61% reporting that they struggled to put it on or required assistance and 67% reporting that it didn’t fit. Most worryingly, 72% felt exposed, 60% felt self-conscious, and 57% felt uncomfortable wearing the gown.
I’ve often wondered why on earth we routinely put so many patients into hospital gowns within minutes of their arrival at hospital.
Sometimes referred to as “dignity gowns,” such dignity as they afford is only in comparison to being stark naked. They don’t come in a wide range of sizes or lengths, and they’re open along the back. You tend to get what you’re given and make do. The effect is to leave patients with lots of exposed flesh, with underwear or buttocks intermittently displayed and a feeling of extreme vulnerability, not to mention being cold if they have no other layers to wear.
In rural towns across the U.S. hospitals are in crisis. Since 2010, 121 rural hospitals have closed. And, the National Rural Health Association says more than one-third of all rural hospitals in the U.S. are at serious risk of shutting down.
But not all hospitals are losing money. A series of mergers and acquisitions that began in the 1990’s has created massive hospital groups. Many of these hospital consortiums are turning huge profits every year by offering high priced services to well insured patients.
From a JAMA Network online article (February 4, 2020):
High medical prices and billing practices may reduce public trust in the medical profession and can result in the avoidance of care. In a survey of 1000 patients, 64% reported that they delayed or neglected seeking medical care in the past year because of concern about high medical bills. The field of quality science in health care has developed measures of medical complications; however, there are no standardized metrics of billing quality.
A recent study found that only 53 of 101 hospitals were able to provide a price for standard coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Notably, among the hospitals that provided a price, the price ranged from approximately $44 000 and $448 000 and was not associated with quality of care as measured by risk-adjusted outcomes and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons composite quality score.
In the same way that there is wide variation in pricing, aggressive collection tactics also can be highly variable by institution. In a recent analysis, 36% (48/135) of hospitals in Virginia garnished wages of patients with unpaid medical bills, and 5 hospitals accounted for 4690 garnishment cases in 2017, representing 51% of all cases.7 In total, 20 054 lawsuits were filed in Virginia against patients for unpaid debt. For many hospitals that sue patients, legal action follows multiple attempts to contact patients through letters and calls, and some hospitals may offer to set up payment plans or even negotiate charges.
This week on Prognosis, we look at one startup that’s trying to redesign care for some of the most vulnerable patients, taking into account the complex realities of their lives. The company is trying to improve care for people and communities the medical system often fails – and it believes that fixing those failures will not only make people healthier, it will also save money.
In America, poverty is linked to shorter lifespans. The wealthiest 1% of Americans live more than a decade longer than the poorest 1%, and the longevity gap has expanded in recent years. The medical community is increasingly examining the role that poverty and difficult social circumstances play in illness. Some people are asking whether the health care system could do more to address the things that influence people’s health beyond their medical care.