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What I Wish I’d Known Before … Being Admitted to a Hospital or Being Seen in the ED

March 24, 2018 What I Wish I'd Known Before 5 Comments

How much my ambulance / ED / hospital bill would be for a three-day emergency admission at an academic medical center in Tokyo. Being an American, I spent much of that time stressing about how much it would cost me, assuming I’d be presented with the usual five-digits-or-worse sums we get slammed with in the US. Turns out I didn’t need to stress out so much The ambulance ride was free, courtesy of Japan’s taxpayers. The ED workup, including tons of labs and imaging orders plus the three-day stay, ended up being about $2,000. I expected at least one more digit on that number. The standard of care and facilities was actually better than what I’ve seen at most US hospitals. A good reminder of just how absurdly out of hand healthcare costs in America are by comparison. In related good news, my employer’s surprisingly generous health insurance plan reimbursed the full cost, no questions asked, probably because it was way cheaper than paying for a comparable situation here at home.

1. In the Emergency Department, even though I confirmed with the reception-triage nurse that my physician earlier had called into the ED to discuss my condition and to refer me to the ED and hospital, my medical record, under referring physician, listed SELF-REFERRED.

2. For the next 5 1/2 hours, while I was waiting for a decision to be made about my painful condition and hopeful admission to the hospital, two or three of my “neighbors” in the Emergency Department room were seen and admitted to the hospital. In addition, an Emergency Department staff nurse who complained of flu onset was immediately admitted to the hospital in an available pediatric bed.

3. After another three hours, finally a call was made to the gastroenterologist on call, a Fellow. She never came to see me. I was told by the attending Emergency Department physician 1) that GF did not think I needed to be admitted; 2) that except for requiring a blood transfusion, which would be risky, I was “healthy” and I should be discharged home.

4. Three days later (after the weekend), when I appeared for a rescheduled Clinic appointment, I was immediately admitted to the hospital with intractable diarrhea, failure to thrive, iron deficiency anemia, and a urinary tract infection. I remained in the hospital for TEN days.

5. After discharge, ONLY one day later, the home health nurse, my referring physician, and the on-call hospital physician advised me to return to the ED so I could be readmitted to the hospital.

6. This time in the ED, an NG tube was placed down my throat. From the time I received the NG tube to the time I was finally re-admitted to the hospital, eight and a half hours transpired! I was told that the reason for this intolerable delay was that the Medicine and Surgery Department physicians could not determine what was really wrong with me, and so they argued back and forth about which service should admit me!

Information about your condition and treatment will be verbally communicated to you regardless of your ability to comprehend or retain it due to pain and medication. And your care is overseen by a series of non-employee hospitalists that come and go, leaving nothing but a bill and an 800 number where you can leave a message but never hear back.

Upon discharge, you will be given a paper prescription for three days of medication and instructions to contact your PCP that wont be able to see you for a week.

Within three weeks, the bills for out-of network providers that you don’t remember seeing begin to arrive and will continue to arrive over the next year.

The only coordination of care that exists is what you personally enforce so take notes as best as you can keep copies of what little information is shared with you.

I took my wife to the ED late at night one time. After a thorough examination of her condition (ectopic pregnancy / ruptured fallopian) and in consultation with her OB practice’s on-call physician, the ER team decided to wait for my wife’s personal OB to come in for his morning rounds to see her. So they admitted her, without really consulting us and considering any alternative options, for the few hours until he came in and could get prepped for emergency surgery. She had a private room for all of about four hours, but of course that resulted in a significantly larger bill. I wish we had known more about this plan and had an opportunity to weigh in on the admission decision.

My wife was admitted following a skating fall and a early evening broken wrist. The ED did not tell us that a doctor would not be available to set the break until the morning, when we could have gone to a nearby hospital and had it done right away.

Admitted after about twelve hours in the ER bay (not too much of a complaint, they’re a busy hospital) to a room shared with a women with an altered mental state who rang the nurse call button about once every half hour.

I was brought a hospital gown and trousers, which were left folded on a chair that was past the end of my bed. I was hooked up to an IV on one side, and a heart monitor on the other, so I couldn’t even crawl to the end of my bed to try and reach for them.

The main light in the room was a bright overhead fluorescent light that spanned the width of the room, directly over the head of both patient beds, meaning that every time they checked on her in the middle of the night, they turned on a light that shone through my eyelids.

Eventually they stopped turning it off altogether, so I had to try and sleep with a pillow over my eyes, while hooked up to a drip and a heart monitor.

Similar experience with meals: I was moved to a new room that was “private” (until the next patient moved in) and when dinner came around it was a fruit cup and nothing else.

  • “That’s what you ordered.”
  • “I didn’t order anything, I just got here.”
  • “That’s what the last person in this bed ordered.”
  • “They were discharged, they aren’t here to eat their dinner. I am.”

The nurse felt really bad for me and rustled up something a little more substantial, but the total lack of coordination and apparently awareness that beds turn over was startling. I made sure to order a nice full meal before I was discharged so that whoever came after me got at least something they could eat.

Being provided instructions by the nurse on how to make my own bed with new linens. I don’t know what to make of that. On the one hand, nurses aren’t maids, so it seems weird to be churlish that the nurse wouldn’t be making a bed, but on the other hand it definitely seems weird to ask a patient (who is still hooked up to a heparin drip with a heart monitor in the gown pocket) to do it.

I wish I had known that just because nurses don’t get technology doesn’t mean they can’t give you excellent care. At the time I was doing desktop support at a hospital and went to the ED with a particularly virulent GI bug. Due to a combination of factors, they decided to admit me after six hours in the ED. I went to the floor where I felt the nurses were particularly incompetent based on the interactions I had had with them about their computers. The care I got was wonderful and I was incredibly grateful and humbled.

The difference between being admitted and being observed.

That the hospitalists may not be in my insurance plan and I don’t really get to choose the one that will see me.

That the doctor treating me while at an in-network hospital was actually out of network. Then that HDHP out-of-network charge single-handedly emptied my HSA for co-pay and co-insurance.

Even though the wait at the ED seemed shorter than at urgent care, by the time you add in waiting around for the doctor to get results and then actually share them with you, it ends up equaling out, except from a money perspective. ED is definitely more expensive.

As CIO, I was shocked at how folks taking care of me used the systems we had deployed. In discussion with them, it turned out their training was not adequate or they were told “this is how we do it.” What disappointed me most was that my staff was well aware of it and had done nothing to improve the situation, including giving management a heads up. Turning that around took a long time.

I’m probably not a very good person to answer this one, but I honestly felt very prepared for my inpatient surgery a few years ago. I owe this to a pre-op surgery instruction program I attended which was hosted at the hospital a month or so before the actual day of surgery. My doctor and his staff were also very organized and on top of their processes before the day. I had all my questions answered, fears allayed, and was pretty ready to go on D-Day. In fact, my care while at the hospital was so good, I almost didn’t want to come home. Yep, I know, this sounds like a paid advertisement. But I think it was my own initiative to educate myself and the the doctors’ / hospital’s efforts to plan how to educate patients to be ready.


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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. I went to the ER on a Saturday night for a broken wrist. I had missed urgent care hours by about 10 minutes. I was there about 2 hours, left with a splint and a script for pain meds which I couldn’t fill until the next day. I didn’t sleep well that night due to pain. Overall, I would say the experience was fine, however, I wish hospitals would do a better job of consolidating the billing process. I received bills from the hospital for ER services, the radiologist, the ER doctor, the specialist, and the physical therapist. All of which are in the same system. I had to pay 5 separate entities for my care, which unfortunately didn’t hit my HDHP deductible, but took me a year to pay off.

  2. About 20 years ago, I broke a bone in my foot and was in terrible pain. I took a cab to the hospital around 5:30 or 6am (after trying to sleep all night), sat in triage for an hour or so, finally got to intake in the ED, only to have them call my insurance and the insurance tell them that because my primary care doctor’s office opened in 1/2 hour and was in the same building, they would deny the claim and stick me with the bill, so get this:

    They made me walk up the block to my PCP’s office.

    On. A. Broken. Foot.

    I was pale, I was in a LOT of pain, and my foot was about 2x its normal size. Clearly something was very wrong, but no offer of a wheelchair to wheel me through the building or anything. They told me to walk.

  3. I had one weird experience caring for a parent. We sat in the ER for hours waiting to be seen (as you do). Finally we saw the physician and they decided to admit my parent.

    By the time this happened it was early evening and it was “too late” to order a meal. My poor Mom was famished and so was I! I had to run out to a local fast food joint and order us both a meal that way.

    It just seemed odd that a patient, willing and able to eat, would be unable to get a meal on site. Would missing one meal imperil the patient? Certainly not. On the other hand the person has a medical issue requiring treatment. Missing a meal darkens their spirits and surely does not help them become well again.

    I was happy to perform this task, but what if I had not accompanied my family member?

    • The food thing is bizarre to me; as you say, missing a meal has a pretty major impact on a person’s well-being and their mood. Surely a facility can have a refrigerator with sandwiches and yogurts and fruit and other “grab and go” items for situations like this. There will be food waste, as they’re perishable, but barring outlier events a hospital’s intake should be easy to predict so a pantry could be stocked appropriately.

      • Not to mention employees. Small hospitals often don’t offer food service after dinner hours are over, leaving the night shift employees with whatever they can forage from vending machines. The food service of a small hospital I worked out made trays of sandwiches before they left for the night. I worked overnight at one of our large hospitals and wasn’t shocked to see employees collecting individual orders for a fast food run before their place of choice closed at 2:00 a.m.

        A hospital environment is totally different after the suits have departed their carpeted spaces at 5:00, leaving only that small core of people who actually take care of patients. It’s odd that hospitals, like most of the healthcare system, still mostly work on a 8-to-5 weekday-only schedule.

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