Hospital is a dangerous place, especially for the old and very sick — which is one reason why a measure of a hospital’s efficiency is the speed with which it discharges patients home after treatment. Another reason for this measure is, of course, economy. Long stays in hospital are hugely expensive.
However, aiming to discharge patients as quickly as possible may be neither humane nor efficient. People are not units of accounting or components in an assembly line or mere mechanical contrivances. Hospitals are not car repair shops.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reflects upon the fact that nearly a fifth of patients treated under Medicare, 2.6 million individuals, return to hospital for further treatment within 30 days of their discharge as cured or sufficiently improved to manage at home.
Rather surprisingly, perhaps, the chances of a patient having to return to hospital do not reflect the seriousness of his original condition, nor are re-admissions invariably for the same condition as that for which the patient was admitted in the first place. On the contrary, in the majority of cases the patient is readmitted for something quite different. For example, 63, 71 and 64 percent of patients readmitted after treatment for heart failure, pneumonia, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are readmitted for reasons other than their original diseases.