HCA ( HCA) spent the second quarter in the recovery room. For the first time in a year, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain is set to meet Wall Street expectations. The company, hurt in recent periods by an industrywide bad-debt problem, announced on Wednesday that second-quarter operating profits should match the consensus estimate of 65 cents a share. Including a favorable adjustment to liability insurance reserves, the company predicts that it will actually top expectations by 7 cents. It also reaffirmed full-year guidance, cut last quarter, of $2.60 to $2.70 a share. HCA's favorable prognosis pushed the company's stock up 2.6% to $41.70 in heavy trading Wednesday. The rally proved contagious, with other hospital companies -- including LifePoint ( LPNT), Tenet ( THC) and Universal Health ( UHS) -- racking up even larger gains. But Peter Young, a business consultant who caters to the hospital industry, saw only a few bright spots in HCA's report. Namely, he said that HCA's higher net revenue per patient -- up 5.7% in the quarter -- indicates that the company has managed to refine its business to focus on higher-margin services and sicker patients. Still, he noticed troubling symptoms of ongoing problems at the company. Most importantly, he said, HCA's hospital admissions -- up just 0.4% from a year ago -- show that patients continue to favor outpatient clinics or, faced with rising co-payments, delay treatment altogether. HCA admission growth fell sequentially as well. Young also noted that HCA's bad-debt expense, while down from last quarter, remains far higher than historical levels. He's doubtful it will improve anytime soon. "Reaffirming lower-end guidance and the reported numbers seemingly indicate the decline in operational performance has leveled," Young admitted. "But the industry's future is still fraught with risk."