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Most Satisfied With Hospital Stays

Savvy Patients Can Avoid Many Common Hospital Problems
By
WebMD Health News

Dec 10, 2002 -- Hospital stays leave one in five people complaining. Some of these complaints, a consumer survey finds, are linked to worse health outcomes.

The survey, appearing in the January 2003 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, collected information from 21,144 readers. Nearly four out of five of these Americans were highly satisfied with either their own recent hospital stay or that of a close relative.

But the 22% who were less than happy had harrowing tales to tell. They complained of grossly inadequate pain relief, of being ignored by nurses, of not being able to talk with a doctor when they wanted to, and of overworked and disrespectful hospital staff. They also complained about billing errors.

"The news is not good," says Joel Gurin, executive vice president of the nonprofit group Consumer Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. "If we were talking about some other consumer service like hotels or restaurants, these numbers would not be alarming. But it's troubling that one-fifth were not satisfied. This is about the most serious customer-service issue any of us will ever run into. If we got bad service in a restaurant, we wouldn't go back there. But here bad service can have really huge consequences."

For example, Gurin says, only 2% of people who reported attentive nursing care had serious complications. But when people had trouble getting a nurse to help them -- something that happened to about half of the patients -- there were four times as many serious complications. Only half of non-surgical patients said their pain was kept under control. And one in eight patients said they knew of a problem or misdiagnosis in their care.

Problems continued even after leaving the hospital. One in 20 people who carefully went over their hospital bills found major errors.

Rick Wade, senior vice president of the American Hospital Association, says he's glad and surprised to see that so many patients and their families had strongly positive experiences. But he also says that U.S. hospitals are working hard to get better.

"We're doing a lot," Wade tells WebMD. "But one glitch in a hospital stay can cause a dim view of the whole thing. And there are these horrific billing systems -- if we set out to design a way to frustrate people we couldn't do a better job. We are looking for ways to improve. A lot of hospitals are looking at the whole continuum of care. We are looking at the whole experience of care from before coming in to the hospital until well after you leave. We are trying to give patients and families the kinds of experiences that will let them have more trust and confidence in us."

Nancy Metcalf, senior editor at Consumer Reports and co-author of the survey report, agrees that hospitals are trying to correct the reported problems.

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