Rehab hospitals are a place for rest and recovery after surgery or injury. Patients expect a healing environment as they recover from knee replacement surgeries, strokes and other procedures. According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), however, almost one-third of Medicare patients in rehab facilities suffered harm due to the care they received.

Investigators from HHS's Office of the Inspector General looked at a sample of 417 Medicare patients from a broad cross-section of rehab facilities throughout the nation. Doctors reviewed the medical records and found 158 problems caused by care received in a facility. Based on the sample, researchers estimated preventability, national incidence rate and costs of these adverse events to Medicare.

Evidence of serious, preventable issues

Patients typically stay in rehab hospitals while they recover from injury, stroke or surgery. According to the Inspector General's report, 29 percent of patients suffered further harm as a result of an issue with medication or care received at a rehab hospital.

Hospital errors led to temporary or long-term harm, hospital transfers, extended stays and even death, though wrongful death accounted for less than 1 percent of all outcomes, according to the study.

Doctors who reviewed the cases determined that nearly half of the incidents were "clearly or likely" preventable through improved assessment or alternative actions on the part of caregivers. Among the common issues found were:

  • Substandard treatment
  • Inadequate patient monitoring
  • Failure to provide needed treatment
  • Medication errors and bad reactions to medication, which accounted for 46 percent of the reported adverse events

The costs of inadequate care

Incidents of patient harm often resulted in patient transfers to acute-care hospitals. The resulting cost to Medicare is estimated at $7.7 million each month and $92 million a year (assuming a constant rate of hospitalization).

The investigators call for improved collaboration among agencies, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). They also indicated a need for increased awareness of patient safety issues to reduce patient harm.

If you or a loved one suffered further injury or illness due to negligent care at a rehab facility, talk with an experienced lawyer today. He or she can advise you on whether you have a qualified claim for medical malpractice.


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