A report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicates that between 1997 and 2008 there was a 40 percent increase in the number of patients who checked themselves out of the hospital early, against medical advice. The report notes that in 1997 there were 264,000 early discharges as compared to 370,000 early discharges in 2008.
To conduct the research the agency looked at a national hospital database of statistics. The database includes information regarding nearly 95 percent of hospital discharges.
The New York Times reports that the early discharges may be an indication as to the “intense pressure patients face when they become ill.” The pressures faced are many, and could be familial, social or economic in nature, according to Anne Elixhauser, senior research scientist for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in the New York Times.
With the recession and the revelation that many Americans are without health insurance, the cost associated with a hospital stay is not insignificant. The average length of a hospital stay in 2008 was four days, at nearly $7,000 per day, according to the agency.
While the pressures that people face are not to be ignored, there should be concern that the early departures could have severely negative impacts on both the health of patients and legal recourse available to them should malpractice have occurred. If there is cause for a medical malpractice claim, the fact that a patient left early could either prevent the suit altogether or severely mitigate any damage award.
There may be pressure to leave the hospital early, but it is important to consider all of the possible consequences of doing so.