Are hospitals disappearing?

Hospitals have always had ups and downs, according to the New York Times (2018). During the 19th century, wealthier people preferred being treated by doctors in their homes and hospitals were seen as a place for poorer people. Hospitals were not known for having good conditions. However, research led hospitals to learn some of the best practices and new technologies, such as anesthesia, which allowed hospitals to give better treatment than at home.

These new pratices and technologies caused more people to start going to hospitals. But now, people are once again shifting towards medical assistance at home or choosing to go to small clinics rather than going to hospitals. Why are these changes happening and what has been the implications for healthcare facilities?

hospitals

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why are hospitals shutting down?

According to the New York Times (2018), the maximum number of hospitalizations in the US was over 39 million, in 1981. Even though the population has increased, hospitalizations have decreased by 10 percent! (New York Times, 2018). There are many different reasons explaining these numbers.

Aside from less patient admissions, the number of days a patient spends in a hospital is much shorter than before. Previously, a patient who had surgery could spend a week or longer in the hospital. However, now patients who have surgery sometimes stay only one day! This is one of the reasons for the reduction of hospital beds. According to Modern Healthcare (2015), new technologies and better medications can either reduce the length of the stay of a patient, or receive the necessary treatment outside of a hospital.

Second, one of the biggest problems that hospitals face today are hospital-acquired infections and trying to control the spread of infection. Hospital-acquired infections are becoming an increasingly serious problem, especially with the rise of drug-resistant suberbugs.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2002, there were 1.7 million cases of HAIs, and that number has only been increasing. Controlling the spread of bacteria in hospitals has become increasingly challenging and, as you have seen on this blog, researchers are constantly finding new sources of infection. As people are becoming more aware of this risk, they are opting for either smaller healthcare facilities with less risk or at-home care.

One of the biggest causes for hospital closures is lack of funding; some hospitals simply cannot sustain themselves. In the US especially, this is in part due to patients being unable to pay hospital fees or having complications with insurance companies and, therefore, postponing their treatments. Hospitals are now scrambling to cut costs, however, this does not always work and has led to many closures.

The costs of shutting down hospitals

The majority of hospitals being shut down are in rural and small town areas, where people are far from cities. These closures can lead to many problems for these people. Doctors may lose their jobs or have to relocate to other cities to practice. Similarly, patients no longer have the option of having a regular, family doctor and need to relocate themselves in order to seek medical attention. They will also incur higher costs to reach the hospital, since they have to travel to hospitals. They lose time travelling, which may even be deadly in some cases. Finally, in the video example below, we see that the loss of jobs from a hospital closure can be detrimental to a small town’s economy, leading to the closure of other companies.

What does the future for hospitals look like?

So what is going to happen to hospitals? Will they eventually all disappear? Although a total disappearance is highly unlikely, it seems that hospital closures are becoming unavoidable, due to the risks associated with hospital-acquired infections, changing consumer preferences and lack of funds to maintain hospitals. There has already been a signifcant number that have been closed since 1981; in 1981, the US had 6933 hospitals and by 2017 this number had dropped to 5534 (New York Times, 2018). And this trend is expected to continue in Western countries. We’ll just have to wait and see what the outcome will be…

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/michelle-cohen/ontario-rural-hospitals_b_16290384.html

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150221/MAGAZINE/302219988

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