Post-Hospital Syndrome

Whether we need surgery for a health problem, have a chronic illness, or were injured in a medical malpractice accident, hospitals are there to help us. Most hospital stays include basic amenities, such as food and drink and a safe, warm place to sleep. We even have the option of 24/7 bedside service, which is a convenience not always offered at home. The other side of the coin is that a hospital stay offers new experiences that many patients find stressful: foods, drinks, faces, fears and anxieties they’re unaccustomed to, a different schedule, a different bed in a clinical atmosphere. Turns out that while we need the hospital to aid us in our recovery from what ails us, we also need help recovering from our stay at the hospital.

That’s right. Hospital stays can pose powerful health threats of their own, including malnutrition, fatigue, confusion, poor wound healing, muscle weakness, and fatal infections, leading one hospital stay to turn into multiple future visits. This phenomenon of a period of vulnerability to new health threats that can be unrelated to the primary reason for the hospital stay was dubbed “post-hospital syndrome” (PHS) in 2013 by Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and professor at Yale University School of Medicine, in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine. Identified as an approximate window period of 30-days after a hospital stay, the stresses of routine acute care can weaken patients, especially elderly ones, and leave them susceptible to new illnesses. Hospitalization stresses can include poor nourishment, pain, discomfort, disturbance of sleep, inactivity due to bed rest, side effects of medications, anxiety, and depression.

Researchers in 2009 concluded that nearly 20 percent of Medicare patients discharged from a hospital, which translates into approximately 2.6 million people, develop an acute medical problem within the first 30 days of discharge. Many of these issues have little relation to the original diagnosis. A similar study in 2015 found that nearly eight percent of patients with post-hospital syndrome who had been hospitalized for certain conditions had to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of undergoing elective outpatient hernia surgery. Another 2015 study found that 50 percent of older patients hospitalized for a heart attack went back to the hospital within a year, and 56 percent of those originally suffering from pneumonia returned for another stay within a year.

It may seem counterintuitive at first that one hospital stay could generate more, but it’s actually not at all far-fetched. It’s common knowledge that stress, a lack of sleep, and other disruptions can affect how well the immune system functions. Just like everything else in the body, it depends on good nutrition, physical activity, plenty of restful sleep and a positive outlook. The interruption of a person’s sleep routines, diet and medication cycle can affect their physiological systems. Being sick and away from home can cause anxiety and depression, especially if the patient has little social support.

Patient advocates have suggested that healthcare institutions and hospitals take proactive approaches to fighting post-hospital syndrome by taking an active role during the patient’s initial visit.

For example, an increased focus on physical therapy and activity during hospitalization could help curb the excessive weakness that frequently comes with bed rest and which makes it that much harder for patients to care for themselves when they arrive home. Increased attention to noise control and proper nutrition could contribute to making hospital time less mentally and physically stressful, so patients can go home in better shape.

If you find yourself as a patient or have a loved one in a clinical setting, it’s important to communicate. Patients need to share any new symptoms, fears, or questions with their health care providers because early attention is often preventative medicine in itself. Family members, doctors, nurses and friends should encourage quiet periods with no disturbances so patients can get the rest they need. Medications taken before, during or after hospitalization need to be carefully checked and assessed, as well. Ending the cycle of re-hospitalization is a goal that benefits everyone – patients, families, medical professionals, hospitals, and insurance companies.

If you have been injured as a result of medical treatment, or if such negligence has proven injurious or fatal to someone you love, you need an Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer on your side – someone who will protect your rights and who is determined to get you the compensation you deserve. For almost 40 years, the Philadelphia PHS attorneys at Wapner Newman have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.