Part of a series. Among Medicare recipients, those discharged from the hospital incur about a 20 percent risk of an unplanned readmission within 30 days. The number is higher for some conditions such as heart failure. This is the result of a terribly dysfunctional health care delivery system. Of course some patients will need readmission; the number can never be pushed down to zero, but 20 percent is appalling. Why ...

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All of us who care for the poor, the illiterate, the poorly educated, the immigrant, the frail, and the abused know this: caring for them involves many challenges that aren’t picked up by Medicare computers or big data. Simplistic calculations about quality metrics such as hospital readmission rates have been way off the mark at capturing the complexities of caring for these patients. A recent study from researchers in Boston ...

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During medical school, we are taught the physiology, anatomy, and pathophysiology of hundreds of disease processes. One thing medical schools don’t teach well is how to cope with losing a patient. Some physicians will go many years as a physician before having their first patient die on them. Others will lose a patient earlier on during their career. I was the latter. I hadn’t even graduated from medical school yet ...

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Earlier this year, when my mother was briefly hospitalized, nobody gave her the wrong medication (her wristband was checked before each medicine was dispensed).  Nobody missed a high or low blood pressure (her vital signs were taken every few hours, like clockwork). She was usually assisted to the bathroom so she wouldn’t fall (a sensor on her bed triggered an alarm if she started to get up). Thank goodness for hospital-based ...

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Walter was far older than his chronological age.  A mere thirteen years, he kept company with a much older crew.  Doctors, nurses, and CNAs were his constant companions.  The other kids on his floor were either too sick to interact, or came and left within a matter of days.  But not Walter.  His heart was too weak to allow his departure, but too strong to be first in line for ...

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My patient was an elderly farmer with severe vascular disease. He had advanced leg artery narrowing, had survived multiple heart attacks, and was admitted to the hospital after a large stroke. He was incredibly cheerful, vibrant, and optimistic. He had a very large, loving family who took turns attending to him, and encouraging him with each small improvement in his leg and arm strength. They knew his neurological exam better ...

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On my medicine sub-internship, I took care of an elderly man who was a retired military surgeon. When he first came into the hospital, mentally altered from an underlying infection, he was irascible and unpleasant towards many staff members, swatting their hands away as they attempted to draw blood for lab tests. As the infection came under control, the shell of rage fell away to a quiet dissatisfaction. The bed was ...

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Over the years, I have heard families bemoan that their relative who was just readmitted to the hospital was sent home too early just a few days ago. Are they right? First, let me say that in some instances they may be correct. It is certainly possible that the hospital, under increased pressure to kick folks out, may have pulled the discharge trigger too soon. The hospital is not always right ...

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"Donald passed away." We had been sitting in the chiefs’ office with a few of the attendings who had all had Donald (name changed to protect privacy) on their service at one time or another. Everybody exhaled a collective sigh, soaking in the sting of the knowledge of Don’s death; then, within a few seconds, everybody had smiles on their faces.  The smiles were born out of a personal experience with him in ...

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Would my white lab coat be better put to use when I carve the Christmas roast than when seeing patients? After all, we know that these coats can be covered with pathogens, including drug-resistant ones, which may be transmitted to patients. They are cleaned infrequently: In a survey of physicians, nearly 58 percent said they laundered their white coats monthly or never. Less than 3 percent washed them daily ...

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