THE PITFALLS OF EARLY DISCHARGE FOR SURGICAL PATIENTS

I ran across an interesting article in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal titled, “Patient, Heal Thyself.” The focus of the article was the increasing trend by hospitals to quickly discharge patients home after surgery. The article stated that “…Nearly 65% of all surgeries don’t require an overnight hospital stay, compared to 16% in 1980. Hospitals that once kept patients for three weeks after some major operations now discharge them within a matter of days”

Why the change? The article suggests that new minimally invasive techniques (like arthroscopic knee surgery) is part of the explanation and merely references the influence of health insurance companies. My experience tells me the health insurance companies are the MAJOR reason for earlier discharges from hospitals. Let’s face it…the hospital will kick surgery patients out of of the hospital in a blink of an eye if they are not getting paid to keep them.

What does an early discharge mean for the patient?

  • Of all of the complications (infections, blood clots, etc.) which occur after surgery, almost half will surface after the patient has returned home.
  • A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that more than half of surgical patients who developed an infection after their surgery developed the infection at home, increasing the risk of a trip to the Emergency Department or readmission to the hospital.
  • Blood clots and subsequent pulmonary embolisms remain the most common cause for Emergency Department visits and hospital readmissions following joint replacement surgery.

My Take: Your hospital will send you packing as soon as it can so it is vitally important that post-operative patients closely follow their discharge orders, keep a keen eye for signs of infection and blood clots, don’t miss any post-operative follow up visits with your surgeon, and document every contact with your doctor’s office when you make complaints about your post-operative concerns. You would be amazed how often doctor’s deny receiving complaints from post-operative patients and the patient has no documentation or witnesses to confirm that complaints were made but ignored.

Dan Frith

Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.