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December 21, 2005

Hospitals as money-losing businesses in a pandemic

Via Medica.de, a story with an angle I hadn't considered before: Economic Cost to Hospitals Likely to Be Huge. I usually worry about the collateral damage of hospitals too swamped to look after their usual patients. The problem here is that those patients are paying customers, staying away in droves:

"If avian flu occurred in the U.S., a large financial loss would probably be borne by the treating institution unless the government offsets losses not covered by insurance," Romeis says.

"We may be reasonably well prepared to respond to the clinical aspects of the epidemic, but may be inadequately prepared for the economic and operational impact. What will not be reimbursed is the lost business at hospitals, and those indirect losses can be enormous."

Romeis made his observations based on the impact of SARS on the Taiwanese health care system in 2002-2003. He found that patients there delayed care, postponed elective procedures and stayed away from the emergency rooms of hospitals known to treat SARS patients because they were afraid of contracting the disease.

"For instance, during the peak of the SARS crisis, the National Taiwan University Hospital's number of surgeries dropped from 3,576 in May 2002 to 519 in May 2003, an astonishing decrease rate of 85 percent," he said. "At one point early in the epidemic, the hospital temporarily closed down its emergency room."

Posted by dymaxion at December 21, 2005 01:19 PM

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