You may—or may not—have noticed it, but there are more hospitals closing these days than new ones opening. With fewer patient admissions, shorter stays for those who are admitted and new, highly innovative ways that treatment can be delivered in less costly, more comfortable and safer settings (with fewer infections and better-trained staff), a new world of hospitals has emerged. Over the past several years, hundreds of procedures and treatments (from cataract removal to treatment for pneumonia) that formerly were available only in hospitals are now delivered in outpatient facilities, doctors’ offices and sometimes even in your home. What all this means for you…
• Get in and out quickly. Hospital owners—both for-profit and nonprofit—are making concerted efforts to embrace new technologies and transfer care closer to the patient in settings that are less costly and, in many cases, safer and more specialized. The latest trend is what the industry terms “micro-hospitals.” These are usually newly constructed, two- or three-story buildings popping up mostly in urban and suburban areas. They offer emergency care, ob-gyn services, rehab programs (such as physical and occupational therapies), primary-care practices and, in some cases, outpatient surgical facilities all at one site. Many also have a small number of beds (eight or fewer are typical in the current model) to keep a patient overnight if he/she needs more observation or help in starting a treatment. But typically, patients arrive, get treated and are sent home with a treatment plan that may include home-care services, such as a visiting nurse—often with real-time monitoring through the patient’s computer Wi-Fi or telephone line. Insider fact: Studies show that this type of care is as effective—or even more so—than being treated as a hospital inpatient, and it can be far less costly for the patient.
• Use the “old” when it’s needed. Most major hospital companies are gradually converting their older buildings to new uses. The traditional hospital is not going away…it is changing. Some are being used strictly for critical-care patients who need intricate surgeries (including coronary bypass surgery, major back surgeries, such as spinal fusions, or organ transplant) or intensive care. Others are being converted to specialty facilities such as orthopedic surgical centers or women’s health clinics. And still others are being used for transitional-care services or reconfigured to nursing home or hospice facilities. Insider fact: These specialized facilities often bring better quality care to patients, since teams of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals focused on one medical specialty are concentrated in one setting.
• Take advantage of telemedicine. Given today’s high-speed Internet and cell-phone technology, medical experts in one locale can offer guidance and even direct care to patients and other practitioners almost anywhere in the world. Large hospital chains, with facilities throughout the country, have assembled specialists in centralized hubs who can monitor surgical procedures (even by video) or advise your local physician about a course of treatment or procedure in real time. This is especially useful in more rural areas, where there are fewer practitioners and facilities. Insider fact: Telemedicine allows doctors to share MRI scans and other test results with doctors throughout the world, to aid in making a better diagnosis and plan a course of treatment. Ask whether the center where you’re being treated offers telemedicine.