Hospitals Buying Doctor Practices: How This May Harm Patient Care

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In the healthcare field, as with so many industries today, bigger is better. At least better for the balance sheet. Unfortunately, this trend of hospital consolidation may put patients needlessly at risk.

In Missouri and other states, more hospitals are buying physician practices. When that happens, the doctor becomes an employee of the hospital system. The American Medical Association reported that, in 2012, 53 percent of doctors owned their own practice. That's down from 61 percent in 2008. Hospitals claim this helps improve patient care while reducing health care delivery costs.

However, there are potential downsides to patient care as more hospitals spend additional resources to purchase doctors' practices.

More Patients May Mean Shorter Examinations

First, hospitals may require the doctor/employee to see more patients daily. More patients mean more revenue for hospital systems. More patients can also equate to less time with the doctor, and important signs or symptoms may be missed or incorrectly diagnosed in the shorter examinations.

Second, as more patients are directed into the hospital setting, they may also be shuttled between more hospital-employed doctors. Again, more doctor/employee visits can be a financial plus for hospitals. But when more providers are included in a patient's care, the chances for missed communication between physicians can increase.

For example, a doctor may send a patient to a hospital for treatment. Another doctor/employee may be charged with monitoring the patient's treatment in the hospital, rather than the referring physician. This lack of continuity of care and detailed knowledge of the patient's history may lead to medical errors.

Hospitals May Limit Patient Stays and Care

In certain circumstances hospitals may want to limit the length of patients' visits. Many hospitals are paid a fixed rate by insurers for a particular ailment, regardless of the amount of care delivered. In these situations, shorter stays and less treatment can mean a better economic equation for hospitals - but also imperil the health of the patient.

It's important to note that hospitals that employ health care providers who make mistakes and critically injure patients may be just as responsible for the damage done as their employees, especially when the hospitals streamline care for the sake of the bottom line.

If you or a family member has been a victim of doctor error or hospital negligence, you may want to consult an attorney. He or she can determine all liable parties and pursue financial compensation from them for the serious harm they've caused.

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