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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 9/3/18

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I spent some time this week learning about the patient/family side of the changes that value-based care is bringing us. A close friend of mine had a hip replacement and got to experience the “new normal” in some dimensions of healthcare. He chose a surgeon at one of our local academic medical centers; since he is young (under 40) and otherwise healthy, he was offered the option of an outpatient procedure. As a physician who has been out of the primary care flow for a while, I wasn’t really aware that outpatient hip replacement was even an option. Of course, early ambulation is a good thing, but sending someone home the same day is relatively new.

It’s great to get people out of the hospital early – certainly not being in the hospital is a great protector against hospital-acquired infections. One can also think of the potential for higher-quality sleep at home, without having your vital signs checked or having IV pumps beeping at you. On the other hand, there may be children and pets at home, so quiet time is no guarantee. I’m sure one of the factors influencing a change to outpatient status for many procedures is the sheer cost of days in the hospital. As I learned more about my friend’s arrangements for his post-hospital care, one might begin to think twice about that cost equation. Certainly, there’s a smaller payment to the hospital, but there’s the reciprocal cost of having a spouse or family member take off work for a period of time because someone has to be home with the patient 24×7. Home health, home physical therapy, and other services may be substituted for the inpatient versions, and not having seen a bill for either of those services in a while, I’m not sure how much of a savings it truly is.

There’s also a psychological cost – for most of us used to western-style medicine, there may be comfort in knowing that if something “bad” happens, there are professionals close by. It’s easier to run laboratory tests if new symptoms or side effects develop; if the patient falls, there are trained staffers who know what to do and how to help. At home, there’s that shade of uncertainty about what might happen if things don’t go as planned, such as if the patient begins to run a fever or is having pain that isn’t controlled by the medications available at home. At an academic center there’s typically a “house officer” resident physician who can assess a patient if the nursing staff identifies a potential risk or worsening condition. At home, you have your telephone, and your own ability (or inability) to describe what is going on.

My friend is taking his recovery in stride, although figuratively rather than literally. He quickly figured out how to lash his portable, deep venous thrombosis compression pump to his walker so it didn’t strangle him when he was trying to make his way around the room, and shared his expanded knowledge of Netflix with the rest of us. Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! is an interesting look at rather genteel British repo men and their work. I’m sure we’ll have some laughs when the surgery and home care bills start rolling in – we’ll see how long it takes to get everything paid and reconciled. Depending on how that goes, it might be the most frightening part of the entire procedure. Until then, he’ll have to be entertained by a parade of friends dropping by to sit with him so his family can leave the house, and endless card games playing Uno.

Labor Day Weekend is a fairly low readership environment, so I’ll keep this Curbside Consult brief. Whether you’re barbecuing, visiting with friends, packing away your white shoes, or using the long weekend to catch up, take a minute to remember what Labor Day is all about. It’s been a federal holiday in the US since 1894, and is also celebrated in Canada. Spend a few minutes thinking about the work people do and how much we all need each other to keep things going, especially the folks that are outside the C-suite. Be sure to thank the people in facilities engineering, sterile processing, dietary, custodial, and so many other departments that keep our healthcare world turning.

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