Privatization of the medical industry – from nursing homes to hospitals to home health care companies to primary care doctors – is increasingly becoming the norm. Recently, a new study showed that adverse medical outcomes are more likely in privatized healthcare facilities. This is unsurprising to any Palm Beach medical malpractice lawyer.
Published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association, the analysis revealed that in three years after a private equity firm purchased a hospital, the number of negative medical outcomes among patients soared. Surgical infections, bed sores, falls – these sorts of adverse medical events collectively rose by 25 percent. Central line infections in particular rose by 38 percent. Falls by patients staying in the hospital were up 27 percent. These are the sort of incidents that should never happen. And most telling was that in similar hospitals that were not privately-owned, the rates were not rising.
There was a 5 percent drop in the number of patient deaths. However, researchers noted that could be explained by a tendency toward admitting healthier patients who otherwise might have been sent home. Such practices not only skew death rates, they also drive profits.
Those who have studied hospital safety extensively point to this as the first data that strongly points to quality problems at hospitals that are taken over by private equity companies.
Last year, The New York Times reported on the trend of giant health insurers and other multibillion-dollar corporations grabbing up primary care physician practices, noting that these offices are one of the main recipients of $400 billion in federal Medicare funding for older Americans. Nearly 7 in 10 doctors today are currently employed by a hospital or corporation. Corporate leaders insist these arrangements will bring more coordinated care for patients, and that doctors will get a flat fee per-patient, rather than piecemeal payment for each test and treatment.
But our Palm Beach medical malpractice attorneys see several problems with such arrangements. Firstly, there’s the erosion of the patient-doctor rapport – particularly when the corporation imposes limits on the services and treatments a patient can receive. Such limits are likely to be dictated by cost rather than medical necessity. Patients also get steered toward connected pharmacies and providers. At least one analysis showed that consolidation of physicians groups in some local markets leads to higher prices for patients.
Many patients in these systems need prior authorization to receive care. Just as an example of how this can be problematic, consider the 2022 case in which Kaiser Permanente was found liable in a $3 million medical malpractice lawsuit in the pneumonia/sepsis death of a tennis player. The health plan required prior authorization for in-person emergency treatment. But despite pleas from the patient’s wife, noting his chest pain and shortness of breath, both a nurse and doctor declined to authorize an in-person visit and only offered over-the-counter medications. His condition dramatically worsened. By the time his wife took him to the emergency department anyway, it was too late.
Overall, rates of medical complications have been declining over the last two decades. But in the JAMA study, researchers analyzed eight measures of quality care, and found that all of them worsened in hospitals bought by private equity funds.
One of the most commonly-cited issues: Staffing. Payroll is one of the most expensive costs in a healthcare system, and it’s one of the first to be scaled back when operators are looking to save money. Almost inevitably, private acquisition of a healthcare service is followed by staffing reductions. But fewer healthcare employees means more medical errors.
Some public health scholars caution against making any major policy decisions on the findings of this study, but say it is cause for the government and healthcare community to lean in and more closely examine the shortcomings of these operations.
If you or a loved one are considering filing a Palm Beach medical malpractice claim, contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Serious Medical Errors Rose After Private Equity Firms Bought Hospitals, Dec. 26, 2023, By Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz, The New York Times
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Missed Diagnosis a Common Florida Medical Malpractice Claim, Nov. 14, 2023, South Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog