If you've been wondering about the rather light posting schedule, here's most of the explanation: two Saturdays ago, my mother's appendix burst. It was a lengthy, draining saga that fouled up a rather full writing schedule. We just brought her home from the hospital today; she'll be staying with us while she finishes a course of IV antibiotics. Luckily, we're both writers with a great deal of flexibility about where we can work, and we have a spare bedroom, and the means to purchase a bed for her to stay on.
...Hospital costs were a huge political issue throughout the 1970s. Jimmy Carter unsuccessfully tried to pass price controls, but ultimately, the government settled on a system that paid a fixed reimbursement for a given class of problem, rather than just paying the hospital for however long they'd care to keep patient. (A system known as Diagnostic Related Groups, or DRGs). The length of hospital visits dropped like a stone--from an average of 7.5 days in 1980 to 4.8 today. Most of that change was accomplished by 1995.
I know all the reasons why this is a good idea. Hospital days are unbelievably expensive. And hospitals are not fun places to be. They're noisy and the amenities aren't too great. They're also a great place to pick up a hospital acquired infection--and hospitals are the primary vectors for really nasty drug resistant bacteria.
But it's hell on the families--the web is full of people who are at their wits end because the hospital just dumped Mom on them even though Mom can't really walk or use the toilet.
...One way to think about it is that we made a policy choice to save money by turning family and friends into parahealth professionals. In my case, I think that's the right choice: I'm happy to take care of my mother, and I understand the cost pressures that made this desirable.
The problem is, most people didn't participate in that choice. There was no public debate over whether we should send elderly patients home in terminal condition to families with no training as health workers. We just said "let's cut hospital costs!" and everyone said "Yay!" and then some folks in a back room decided that this was the way to do it.
Maybe one way to lower costs, and improve care at the same time, is to invest in caregiver support rather than hospital stays.
Is it better that hospital care be available? Obviously so, at least for many cases. It's hard, though, not to see some parallels to the home birth movement. Sometimes people choose to forgo technology, professional health care workers, and a sterile environment, because they have an alternative: human hands, loved ones who (unprofessionally) love them and desire the best for them, and a familiar home environment. When it becomes the norm to professionalize a caregiving environment, surely a great many people have better outcomes (especially those who do not have the alternative) -- but there are also a large class of people who won't really have "better" outcomes and who will have lost out on a real opportunity for human connection, human relationship building, the experience of relying on others or of caring for others because that's what human beings do.
Maybe we need a home convalescence movement, or a home hospice movement, the way we have a home birth movement. (If that's so, then we could use some "midwives:" experienced and caring, but not necessarily professionally trained and licensed, women and men whose passion is to help people help themselves in their own homes.) It's surely not for everyone, but it could well be -- for more people than realize it.
UPDATE: Oh goodness, a McArdle-lanche. Welcome to my hastily-tossed-off post. You may be interested in other posts partly inspired by discussions at Megan's blog, many of which are in my weight loss category. There is also politics (lately material about the HHS contraception mandate) and homeschooling.