Never Events — Shooting the Messenger

Beginning October 1, 2008, Medicare, and many health insurance companies, will no longer pay hospitals for the additional services needed for patients who suffer from “never events.”

Never Events, as defined by the National Quality Forum, are those events which should never happen to a patient.  There are 28 errors on the list ranging from wrong site surgeries to drug errors to crimes committed by medical professionals.

Not included on the list from the NQF are HAIs (hospital-acquired infections).  There may be many reasons for this, but there are many groups and organizations that believe HAIs like MRSA, C.Diff and VRE SHOULD be included on the list.  Many of them, although not all of them, are preventable.

Regardless of what the left hand is doing (NQF), the right hand of payers (Medicare and many insurers) have decided that these infections will no longer be covered.  That means that any hospitalized patient who contracts, or at least presents with, an infection during a hospital stay may not be charged for the extra cost of treating the infection, nor will the hospital be paid by Medicare or many of the health insurance companies.

I don’t have the expertise to say whether this is right or wrong.  On the one hand, I believe it’s absolutely necessary to force hospitals to figure out ways to decrease the numbers of patients who contract these infections, estimated to be upwards of 5 million patients per year.

On the other hand, I know that sometimes patients arrive with pre-existing infections that may be apparent when they are admitted.  Can they be tested upon arrival?  Of course they can — although some hospital personnel point out how expensive that is, and that insurance won’t cover that either.  I have no doubt that there will be some problem for patients that crops up from this new ruling.  Hospitals will refuse to admit patients at risk, or they will discharge them too early so they can — at least in the paperwork — ignore an infection just as it begins.  Hospitals will do whatever they need to to protect their *sses — and it will be at the expense of patients.  Unintended consequences, all based on money.  What else is new?

During the past few days, a dialogue has taken place… wait… make that a diatribe…. on the blog of a certain “buckeye surgeon” where complaints and barbs have been thrown at a newspaper reporter who wrote about this October 1 date for reimbursement stoppage.  On just about the same day, the Wall Street Journal printed an article by Dr. Betsy McCaughey, founder of RID (Reduce Hospital Deaths) that gave some statistics about hospitals that have addressed infection problems — and have successfully reduced their numbers, one (claims) to 0 patients over a span of years.

So –I pulled some quotes from Dr. McCaughey’s WSJ article and posted them to the blog — and you would have thought I was the devil-incarnate…. whoa!  A regular lightening rod!  All those doctors so quickly turned their ire on me.  And I thought angry patients got worked up!  They can’t hold a candle to posters like “white coat” and “anonymous” who — God forbid — don’t even use their real names.

No — they attacked me one after the next.  In fact, it began when I suggested that SOME hospitals were actually trying to help patients!  SOME hospitals are actually asking their doctors and personnel to adhere to a checklist that — (you won’t believe this) — actually prevents infection!

Oh — one even attacked me for not being grateful that I was misdiagnosed with cancer.  She told me I should not have been upset at the misdiagnosis — I should have been relieved that I didn’t have it.  (My standard reply, which I didn’t bother with is — “gee — you didn’t get hit by a car today.  Are you relieved and grateful?”)  Of course — what on EARTH does this have to do with infections?  I’m not sure.

What’s the bottom line?  What can we learn from this?  Honestly — I do NOT believe that including HAIs on the list of never events Medicare and some insurances will no longer pay for was the right approach.  While some infections could have been listed and it would have been helpful, instead I think Medicare has only thrown down the gauntlet for hospitals to go underground.  Patients will pay the price in even worse health problems.  We must be more vigilant and be prepared to stand up for ourselves and our loved ones, and once October 1 rolls around, that will be even more difficult.

What the Trisha-bashing on the Buckeye Surgeon’s blog has shown me is that when we patients begin to stand up for our NEED for decent healthcare, we become the enemy.  The point I tried to make on a couple of the blog posts was that I think patients and providers need to remember that we have the same goal — improved patient care.  But those folks didn’t want to go there.  They just wanted to bash me.

I pray none of them is ever hurt by a medical error.  I hope none of them ever suffers at the hands of a medical practitioner who is probably just in a big hurry because he doesn’t get reimbursed well enough for his work.  I hope they don’t lose a loved one, like I did, after she acquires MRSA.

But mostly I hope they will stop taking their frustration out on the messenger.  Afterall — excuse me — I THOUGHT we all had the same goal?

Don’t we?

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Trisha Torrey
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