Waiting can be expensive. PBS reports on observation rooms in which patients wait while providers determine if they should go home or stay for further treatment. Because there’s rarely clear protocols to govern how these rooms are run, they often turn into “purgatories” for patients, complete with poor conditions and wasteful inefficiencies:
It’s estimated that two-thirds of hospitals in the U.S. use inefficient practices, which translates to longer stays for patients and an additional $331 per patient in costs for the hospitals themselves. It also translates to poorer care conditions for some, who may find themselves in “observation purgatories” awaiting better treatment.
This is an example of the kind of expensive defects in our health care system that aren’t even really on most people’s policy radars. And yet the study estimated that changes to how hospitals do observation could, depending on how they are implemented, save anywhere from 1 to 8.5 billion dollars a year. We have noted other examples on this blog before of important yet overlooked inefficiencies burdening our health care system. If you put a few of these different inefficiencies that are each separately costing us in the billions—even hundreds of billions— together, pretty soon we’d be talking about some serious money.Putting practices into place that can save us that money—like the ones recommended in the PBS piece— would go a long way to making our system better, more affordable, and more amenable to future reforms. What could we do with those saved billions? Train more doctors? Invest in technologies that reduce the cost of care? Expand access to health insurance? The list is long, but few of that will be really achievable until we can a handle on the waste and inefficiencies currently making the system expensive and dysfunctional.