Sometimes it seems like private equity investment firms are buying up more and more businesses. That might be good for the bottom line, since they are most interested in making a profit. However, when the business is a hospital, increased profitability can come at the expense of patient safety.
In the past 20 years or so, private equity firms have been a welcome lifeline to hospitals struggling to stay open. But what has the effect been on patients? That’s what a recent JAMA study sought to find out.
Changes in adverse events
Specifically, researchers looked at the change in the number of “adverse events” for Medicare patients (typically those 65 and over) three years after being purchased by one of these firms compared with other hospitals. Adverse events are generally considered any type of harm that occurs to a patient due their care (or lack thereof) as opposed to their underlying condition. Bed sores would be just one example. Of course, some adverse events are more serious than others. Here’s what they found:
- Central line infections involving central venous catheters (CVCs) rose by almost 38%.
- Falls increased by 27%.
- Adverse events as a whole rose by 25% more.
One lead researcher involved in the study said, “Reductions in staffing after acquisition could explain all of these findings.”
How does it affect death rates?
If there’s any positive news from the study, it’s that the death rate of hospitalized patients was slightly lower in the private equity-owned hospitals. The death rate for those released in the past 30 days showed no significant difference. However, these numbers could be related more to the overall health and condition of people admitted to hospitals than to anything that happens to them while they’re there.
It’s not always easy to find out who owns a particular hospital because the transactions don’t have to be public information. That’s something that Congress is working to change. Regardless of who owns a hospital, if you or a loved one suffered harm that you believe was preventable, it may be wise to determine whether you have a valid malpractice claim. Getting legal guidance as soon as possible is a good first step.