Hospital stays often hazardous for elderly patients


Hospital stays are decidedly risky for elderly patients. In many cases, patients go home sicker than they were when they arrived at the facility.

Elderly patients are frequently underfed and miss needed sleep during their hospital stays, according to an article from Kaiser Health News. Late night vital checks keep patients awake at all hours, their movements may be restricted by IV poles and oxygen lines and they frequently stay in bed for long periods at a time. Many treatments they're prescribed may be unnecessary, redundant or even harmful, according to the article.

Ken Covinsky, a physician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco division of geriatrics, told Kaiser Health News that hospital clinicians are so focused on treating illnesses and injuries that they don’t take the time to handle the needs unique to the elderly. Hospitals are also not penalized for discharging patients who may leave the hospital less functional than when they came in, he said, which leads to a lack of accountability.

“A lot of the stuff we do in medicine does more harm than good,” Covinsky told the publication. “And sometimes with the care of older people, less is more.”

To handle that troubling trend, some healthcare facilities now house seniors in separate wards designed to better suit their needs. For example, KHN reports that San Francisco General Hospital has an Acute Care for Elders ward, where staff focus less on a patient’s original diagnosis and more on ways to ensure they can be discharged and return to an independent life. Early in a stay, the patients are assessed for memory problems and how well they can care for themselves at home. Bed rest is avoided as much as possible, according to the article--patients eat in a communal dining room and are given space to do as much as possible on their own.

However, units specifically for elderly patients are still rare, according to KHN, with only about 200 operating across the U.S. And the units aren’t able to accept every elderly patient that comes through the hospital doors, either. But more hospitals are beginning to see the need for these facilities as their elderly populations grow. Geriatric-specific emergency departments are also on the rise, FierceHealthcare previously reported, but are even rarer--about 100 are in operation.

How elderly patients are treated also has financial implications, according to KHN. Medical mistakes like bed sores and deficient supply of oxygen commonly afflict seniors, according to the article, and such adverse events cost Medicare about $4.4 billion a year. Poor hospital treatment can also lead to unneeded spending on extended hospital visits, repeated readmissions and nursing facilities, according to the article.

- read the KHN story