KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Hospitals Seek New Ways To Streamline Care

News outlets report on hospital issues, including the differences between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals and efforts to streamline care.

"Today's nonprofit hospitals - which make up slightly more than half of the nation's 5,000 community hospitals - are trying to juggle the demands of making money with being a charitable organization," The Orlando Sentinel reports. "For legislators across the country, there's growing tension that massive nonprofit-hospital organizations don't pay any taxes." The reason for the tax exemption is the idea that nonprofit hospitals offer a community benefit, usually measured "through charity care and 'community-benefit programs,' which can range from health fairs to glaucoma screening. … Charity care - the free care that hospitals provide to those with no insurance or the amount of a bill they write off because the patient is unable to pay - has come under more fire from legislators across the country as questions arise about how much the hospitals are writing off." The Sentinel examines the charity care records several nonprofit hospitals in Florida (Shrieves, 7/31). 

The San Diego Union-Tribune: Hospitals in California are looking for ways to cut emergency room wait times. More and more people in the San Diego area are heading to the emergency room "as the region grows, more workers are losing their jobs and health insurance in the weak economy, and an aging population confronts unfamiliar medical challenges. Hospital officials around the county have scrambled to keep up with the influx, which they say has been growing by 5 percent to 10 percent each year. … In 2009, Americans averaged four hours and seven minutes in the emergency department before being sent home, according to a recent study by Press Ganey. California's average was four hours, 34 minutes." In response to the long wait times, "Many hospitals in San Diego are building larger emergency departments, increasing staffing and adding daytime fast-track clinics to handle minor ailments, such as a sore throat" (Lavelle, 8/1).

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: The Pittsburgh Medical Center is developing a new "smart room" for patients. "Its focal point is a 32-inch flat screen monitor, which faces the bed. Using a remote control, patients can check e-mail, order a blanket or get details about upcoming tests. When hospital workers enter patients' rooms, the screen flashes their names and titles, thanks to an ultrasound tag they wear at all times. … The system allows doctors, nurses and aides to chart what they've done before they leave the room. They can track if the patient went to the bathroom or took a bath. Basic vitals like temperature and blood pressure readings automatically pop on the screen, on their way to the patient's electronic medical record" (Fabregas, 8/1).

Highlands Today examines on the high cost of emergency care by looking at the hospital bills of several patients (Dickerson, 8/1).

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that "Texas Children's Hospital, long one of the Texas Medical Center's most profitable hospitals, is projecting a $25 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year, a possible portent for other hospitals in the state not already feeling the pinch. In an e-mail to staff on July 13, Texas Children's President Mark Wallace attributed the projected shortfall to an 'abnormally low' patient census, state funding cuts and increasing demand for indigent care. He wrote that the challenges are not unique to Texas Children's." A survey this summer by the American Hospital Association concluded that 70 percent of hospitals were reporting fewer patient visits (Ackerman, 8/1).

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