I have just heard yet another “horrible hospital” experience from my cousin Mary, which highlights how inconsistent and harmful hospital care can be. It is also a saga of doctoring and healing being dictated by insurance companies. Mary’s tale, and a few others I have recently witnessed, is just infuriating. It leaves me certain that it is too dangerous to your health to go to a hospital without an advocate: everyone needs a healthcare proxy. When you are most vulnerable, when you are sick or injured, you are in no position to make sure your insurance company is properly notified for pre-authorizations, much less than that you are diagnosed and treated correctly. Designating a healthcare proxy ensures that someone else is empowered to oversee your care and treatment.
Hospitals are busy places. Insurance companies have forced hospitals to have one single goal – get the patient discharged as quickly as possible. In Mary’s case, they did not care whether she was well enough to leave or not.
Mary fell while recuperating from a broken ankle and was brought by ambulance to an emergency room because her back hurt so badly she could not stand, or move. After x-rays, she was diagnosed as having nothing wrong, and was sent home with a prescription for pain killers. (She was not given any pain killers at the ER, they just gave her a script that she had to wait until the next morning to fill). After having to sleep sitting up because her back hurt so much, the hospital called her the next day and told her she had a hip fracture and she needed to be admitted for surgery which they would schedule for the following day.
The story does not get any better. Even after surgery, Mary’s back pain was ignored, and she was just given pain medication. Her insurance company denied her in-patient rehab and to this day her back pain remains undiagnosed.
Another friend of mine, who had a catastrophic accident, was denied rehab by hospital personnel who did not even take the time to understand the complexity of his injury. The hospital staff in charge of his wellbeing also did not care that he was not well enough to be discharged. They coerced him into leaving after only two nights (the first night spent in the recovery room after a very long surgery) by convincing him, in his injured and medicated state, that he was probably going to be denied insurance coverage of the 2 nights he already stayed because he should have been well enough to leave the previous day. He had no where to go; he was not allowed to climb stairs, and his house was not on ground level. Needless to say, he wound up re-injuring himself and had to have emergency surgery again.
I am sure everyone reading this has heard similar stories. And while sometimes hospital workers provide excellent care, and go above and beyond, someone who knows the patient needs to make sure the patient doesn’t get shuffled through the system but rather is diagnosed and given treatment that makes sense for that patient.
I just recently got out of an emergency room where everyone did their best and gave me great care — but their care still caused me some harm — I passed out in the waiting room, sitting on my broken bones and then I was discharged with an undiagnosed fracture in my sacral bone. (It actually took me asking a specialist, six days later, to review my Xrays 3 times before he paid attention enough to look for the fracture.)
So everyone, please, make sure you designate a health-care proxy today, so you can have someone who knows you, advocate for you. And then when you have recuperated from your hospital stay, you can argue with the insurance company over the unpaid bills!
© Jane F. Collen May 29, 2015