I was overcome with disbelief when I saw an article yesterday morning in The Dallas Morning News claiming that flu cases are good medicine for hospitals. Why?
First and foremost, it’s hard to imagine that any illness could be good medicine for anyone, including hospitals. Yes, we know that the “good medicine” referred to in the headline was the “good financial outcome” for the hospital that an increased influx of flu cases would cause. However, that would be the ultimate cause of some of the poorest medicine delivered in the U.S. today: Do whatever you can as a provider, providing services that even may not be necessary, to increase revenue and bottom line profitability.
Second, having flu patients in a hospital is actually bad medicine for the inpatient setting, since it would make the spread of flu more likely and increase the likelihood of a patient flu “epidemic” within the hospital. Clearly, the goal of any health care team should be to keep as many flu patients and flu symptom visitors away from the hospital campus as possible.
Third, flu cases do not generate any operating income for hospitals, which the article got close to right; a hospital analyst reported that “Higher flu activity is likely to increase medical costs. . .However, unless the flu activity increases dramatically, we expect a limited impact on company earnings.”
Fourth, indicating that the absence of a flu season is the cause of flat year-over-year inpatient volumes holds little truth. We have had minimal flu season volume increases for multiple years, and there are many other more valid reasons to volume declines, including the global economic crisis, which caused more patients to cancel elective procedures, and new technologies permitting more procedures to be done safely in outpatient settings.
Fifth, and most importantly, preventing flu through prevention and education should be health care providers’ primary focus, not encouraging more flu cases so as to cause bad medicine for hospitals.