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Did your doctor discharge you too quickly?

Doctors face pressure from multiple sides to get patients discharged quickly from hospitals. The HMOs striving to cut costs to the bone, the hospital administrators seeking to free up beds and the patients themselves and their family members who want them back at home.

For all of these reasons, it can mean that patients who are still suffering the effects of a critical illness can get discharged too early, potentially jeopardizing not just their recoveries, but possibly even their lives.

When patients fall through the cracks

A lot happens shortly before patients get discharged. Certainly their medical records should be reviewed by the attending physician to make sure that their lab results and other tests are within normal limits, or very close to it.

But sometimes vital lab work hasn't been completed, or a medical regimen might not have run its full course. With the aforementioned pressures on the doctor to write out the discharge orders, it can be all too easy to write out a few prescriptions, make a mental note to check on those lab results in a few days and instruct the patient to return to clinic in a week.

Most of the time, that's going to be sufficient. But for the 20 percent of Medicare patients who get readmitted to the hospital within a month of their discharge due to complications that could have easily been avoided, that's small comfort.

Complications can be minor events that respond promptly to treatment — or they can be disabling or fatal to the already weakened patients.

Who dropped the ball?

If you are a patient in a major teaching hospital like the Cleveland Clinic, chances are good that the bulk of your care will be overseen by a resident fresh out of medical school. He or she will likely be supervised by a senior resident, who in turn reports to the attending physician.

However, complex cases often are discussed during or after rounds by all the residents before a plan of care is determined. With so many involved in a patient's case, errors can occur inadvertently, with each assuming that another resident was taking care of the matter.

If you experience negative repercussions due to medical negligence, you may be able to pursue compensation for your losses, injuries and/or worsened condition.

Source: The New York Times, "Most Dangerous Time at the Hospital? It May Be When You Leave," Dhruv Khullar, M.D., accessed May 19, 2017

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