The ethics of caring for hospital-dependent patients.
BMC Med Ethics. 2017 Dec 11;18(1):75
Authors: Sung C, Herbst JL
BACKGROUND: Hospital-dependent patients are individuals who are repeatedly readmitted to the hospital because their acute medical needs cannot be met elsewhere. Unlike the chronically critically ill, these patients do not have a continuous need for life-sustaining equipment and can experience periods of relative stability where they have a good quality of life. However, some end up spending months or even years in the hospital receiving resource-intensive care because they are unable to be safely discharged, despite an initial optimistic prognosis. It is hard to reliably identify these patients on admission and more research is needed to better understand the unique medical needs of this population. But the inability to safely discharge these patients to their home or to a skilled nursing facility without rapid readmissions also creates ethical implications for the physicians who care for them. The aim of this paper is to clarify some of the ethical considerations involved in caring for hospital-dependent patients.
MAIN BODY: Among physicians, the care of hospital-dependent patients is likely to disproportionately affect hospitalists and intensivists, whose care is often evaluated in terms of reducing patient length of stay and readmissions. Because hospital-dependent patients' medical needs thwart the traditional goal of safe discharge, both clinical ethics and physicians' professional obligations are implicated by their care. The inability to reliably identify these patients early can complicate discussions about treatment goals and informed consent. Similarly, the tremendous dedication of limited resources to these patients without safe discharge back to the community may raise concerns about the just allocation of healthcare resources.
CONCLUSION: Our current acute care hospitals are not designed to provide long-term care for hospital-dependent patients. Unfortunately, safe discharge options remain elusive for these patients. Further research and support of this population is needed to more reliably identify hospital-dependent patients on admission, better inform the discussions of short- and long-term treatment goals, and more wisely allocate resources both within our acute care hospitals and larger healthcare system.
PMID: 29228939 [PubMed - in process]