No one enjoys going to a hospital. It’s like a melting pot of all our least favorite things in this world: bureaucracy, excessive waits, a feeling of vulnerability and that our privacy is being impinged on and, yes, let’s be honest, lots and lots of germs and sick people. Yet, as bad as hospitals often are, many consumers end up with worse experiences there than they should have simply because they fail to do a little research beforehand. With that in mind, here is our roundup of a few essential facts about hospitals that you should know before checking in.
Stay Healthy in July
One of the biggest secrets that many Americans don’t know is that July has proven to be the most dangerous month to visit a hospital. No, it’s not because the doctors are too busy day dreaming of the beach to perform their surgeries (although I guess this could be a possibility.) Rather, it’s because July is the month when students graduate from medical school and start doing residencies at teaching hospitals.
According to ABC News, a recent study analyzed the nearly 250,000 deaths that occurred between 1979 and 2006 due to a hospital’s medication errors and found that the number “spiked by 10 percent in July in counties with a high number of teaching hospitals.” So if you do get sick in July, be sure to research whether the hospital you’re going to is associated with a medical school where residents go to practice.
Hospital Wait Times
Several studies have confirmed what many Americans already know: hospitals have terrible wait times. But according to some, these wait times may actually be endangering patients. The American College of Emergency Physicians reported that patients who needed to be seen within one to 14 minutes of arriving ended up having to wait more than twice as long, or about 37 minutes.
On top of that, there are extreme stories of patients being forced to wait hours, including the incredible story of a woman at a hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., who waited for a full 24 hours before dying in the waiting room from a blood clot.
More recently, a few hospitals have taken steps to make their waiting times more transparent. The Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill., now offers patients the option to call ahead or text if they want to find out the wait time in the emergency room before heading to the hospital. Similarly, the Hospital of Central Connecticut released a free iPhone app earlier this year that serves the same function.
The Rise of Bedsores
In recent years, the number of hospital patients suffering from bedsores has increased significantly. According to a government study released in 2008, there were more than 500,000 patients who got bedsores in hospitals in 2006, which is nearly twice the number that had bedsores in 1993, the first year of that the study analyzed.
According to the National Institute of Health, patients contract bedsores when they spend too much time stuck in one position, whether you’re lying in bed or sitting in a wheelchair. This is a particular problem for the elderly, and it usually occurs on parts of your body like your elbows and ankles, where the bone presses against your skin. In order to prevent this, you should ask your doctor or whoever is accompanying you to make sure that you change positions every couple hours, keep your skin clean and prop yourself up with pillows to relieve the pressure.
Risk of Infections
Bedsores are a nuisance, but they are tame compared to the other major plague in hospitals - infections. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are 1.7 million case of hospital infections every year, and 99,000 deaths that are related to these infections. Of those, 48,000 patients reportedly die each year from preventable infections that could be eliminated “with tight infection control practices in hospitals.”
That said, some hospitals are much more likely to have dangerous infections than others. Consumer Reports has an excellent rundown of infection rates at major hospitals across the country. They found that the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence has 85% fewer infections than the national average, but on the other hand, the Hilton Head Hospital in South Carolina has 200% more.
Medical Identity Theft
As we reported earlier this year, scammers are starting to go after people’s medical information. To date, 1.5 million Americans have had their personal information stolen so that someone else can use your health care to cover their costs. The problem, besides the fact that someone is masquerading as you, is that they might end up adding inaccurate information to your medical fire which could come back to hurt you down the road. At the moment, hospitals are struggling to deal with this problem. So if you have any concerns that you may be the victim of this, your best bet is to speak with your doctors to ask if other physicians have contacted them about your medical file.
Bills May Be Negotiable
Most Americans have been the victim of hospital bill shock at one point or another, but it’s important to remember that sometimes these bills are negotiable. MSN Money reports that patients who are uninsured should feel comfortable speaking with their doctors about the possibility of a discount. Some hospitals have been known to drop the price by a third or more. But the most efficient way to go about this is to take care of it in advance, rather than after your appointment or procedure. MSN recommends consulting the Healthcare Blue Book, which allows patients to do a price comparison between different hospitals that you can use as leverage later.
Hospitals Scan Your Credit Reports
During the past few years, some hospitals have taken up the controversial practice of peering at patient credit scores, credit card limits and even 401(k) information. This is mostly done at nonprofit hospitals that are looking to parse out the patients who are in a financial position that really requires charitable medical care from those who just want a free ride. But other for-profit hospitals also use this method to figure out whether patients will be able to pay their medical bills. In both cases, the issue has raised privacy concerns among consumer advocacy groups.
Get to Know Your Anesthesiologist
In the grand scheme of things, your anesthesiologist may seem like a peripheral character in your hospital experience, but these medical professionals may be the most important person you encounter after your surgeon. An inept anesthesiologist can cause serious harm to a patient, including death in the worst case scenario, and as we’ve reported before, certain anesthesiologists may not fall under your health insurance plan and could cost you a pretty penny.
The likelihood of each of these problems is increased by the fact that hospitals typically rely on anesthesiologists from outside their facility. So, as Daily Finance notes, it’s best that you request to interview anesthesiologists before your procedure so that you can feel confident you’re getting the best care.
Check out MainStreet’s roundup of hospital horror stories here.
—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.