Sharp Rise In Medicare Enrollees Being Held In Hospitals For Observation Raises Concerns About Causes And Consequences

Healthaffairs.org: June 1, 2012.

When it is not clear that an ill patient needs to be hospitalized, he or she may be placed “under observation” in a hospital for further evaluation and short-term treatment. These hospital observation services, often a kind of halfway point between emergency department treatment and full inpatient admission, have become a hotly debated policy issue and subject of lawsuits. Using Medicare enrollment and claims data nationwide, we documented a rising trend in the prevalence and duration of hospital observation services in the fee-for-service Medicare population during 2007–09, accompanied by a downward shift in inpatient admissions. As a result, the ratio of observation stays to inpatient admissions increased 34 percent, from an average of 86.9 observation stay events per 1,000 inpatient admissions per month in 2007 to 116.6 in 2009.  Read more