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VIP Syndrome: Financial Repercussions For All

I posted this true story on my blog previously, but I think it bears repeating (especially with the recent news of increased violence against physicians and threats at gunpoint). Details of the story were altered to ensure privacy of all involved.

***

The son of a business tycoon experienced some diarrhea.  He went to his local emergency room immediately, explaining to the staff who his father was, and that he required immediate treatment.

Because of his father’s influence, the man was indeed seen immediately.  The physicians soon realized, however, that there was nothing emergent about this man’s complaints.  After several blood tests and a stool sample were taken, he was administered some oral fluids and monitored for several hours, they chose to release him to recover from his gastroenteritis (stomach flu) at home.

The man complained bitterly and said that he wanted to be admitted to the hospital.  The physicians, with respect, explained that he didn’t show any signs of dehydration, that he had no fever, his diarrhea was indeed fairly mild (he had only gone to the restroom once during the hours of his ED visit – and that was when he was asked to produce a stool sample).  The man’s pulse was in the 70’s and he had no acute abdominal tenderness.

The man left in a huff, and called his father to rain down sulfur on the ED that wouldn’t admit him.

And his father did just that.

Soon every physician in the chain of command, from the attending who treated him in the ED right up to the hospital’s medical chief of staff had received an ear full.  Idle threats of litigation were thrown about, and vague references to cutting key financial support to the hospital made its way to the ear of the hospital CEO.

The hospital CEO appeared in the ED in person, all red and huffing, quite convinced that the physicians were “unreasonable” and showed “poor judgment.”  Arguments to the contrary were not acceptable, and the physicians were told that they would admit this man immediately.

The triumphant young man returned to the ED for his admission.  Since the admitting diagnosis was supposedly dehydration, a nurse was asked to place an IV line.  The man was speaking so animatedly on his cell phone, boasting to a friend about how the doctors wouldn’t admit him to the hospital so his dad had to make them see the light, that he moved his other arm just at the point when the nurse was inserting the IV needle.  Of course, the poor woman missed his vein.

And so the man flew into a rage, calling her incompetent, cursing the hospital, and refusing to allow her to try again.

At this point, the ED physicians just wanted him out of the emergency room – so they admitted him to medicine’s service with the following pieces of information on his chart:

Admit for bowel rest.  Patient complaining of diarrhea.  Blood pressure 120/80, pulse 72, temperature 98.5, no abdominal tenderness, no white count, patient refusing IV hydration.

Now, this is code for: this admission is total BS.  Any doctor reading these facts knows that the patient is perfectly fine and is being admitted for non-health related reasons.  With normal vital signs, and no evidence of dehydration or infection, this hardly qualifies as a legitimate reason to take up space in a hospital bed.  And when the patient is refusing the only treatment that might plausibly treat him, you know you’re in for trouble.

The man was discharged the next day, after undergoing (at his insistence) an abdominal CAT scan, a GI consult, an ultrasound of his gallbladder, and a blood culture.  His total hospital fee was about $8,000.

Do you think he paid out of pocket for this?  No.  He submitted the claim for payment to his insurance company.  Their medical director, of course, reviewed the hospital chart and realized that the man had no indication for admission, and refused medical care to boot, so he denied the claim.

So the son appealed to his father, who then rained down sulfur on the insurance company, threatening to pull his entire business (with its thousands of workers insured by them) from the company if they didn’t pay his son’s claim.

The medical director at the insurance company dug in his heels on principle, assuming that if he continued to deny the claim, the hospital would (eventually) agree to “eat the cost.”

In the end, the insurance company did not pay the claim.  The CEO of the insurance company called the hospital CEO, explaining that it was really the doctor’s fault for admitting a man who didn’t meet admission requirements.  The hospital CEO agreed to discipline the physician (yes, you read that corretly) and eat the cost to maintain a good relationship with the insurance company that generally pays the hospital in a timely manner for a large number of patient services.

Welcome to the complicated world of cost shifting in healthcare.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.


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2 Responses to “VIP Syndrome: Financial Repercussions For All”

  1. Village Elder says:

    Wow. The admitting physician really took the bullet . . .

  2. Jonathan Dee says:

    Sounds like the hospital needs a new CEO!

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