Doctors dropping the ball on nursing home transfers

Anyone who has spent any time in a hospital, whether as a patient or a caregiver knows that seeing the doctor is like finding the holy grail. I remember endless hours just waiting for the elusive doctor to appear, just so he could take a cursory glance at my mom or dad, flip through the chart, and then provide the signature we’d been waiting all day for. This is especially frustrating during hospital transfers.

hospital hallway

A recent University of Missouri survey of that state’s nursing home staff members found that there is poor communication between the doctors at transferring hospitals and physicians on staff at the admitting nursing homes. The survey also found that orders are often incomplete and difficult to read. The transfer process can take hours, creating a frustrating experience for both staff and families.

I wrote recently about the guilt I felt about Dad’s last minutes in this world. His DNR order had not transferred from the hospital to the skilled nursing facility, so the nursing home staff were legally required to take all measures to save his life when he collapsed in the shower. The result of that failure: my dad suffered broken ribs as he died.

The blame for this failure is not just on the doctors, hospitals and nursing homes. As family members for loved ones who are ill, we become patient advocates. I remember wondering if the DNR order for my dad had transferred, but I never inquired with the staff at the skilled nursing facility. It had been so difficult to get Mom to agree to the DNR at the hospital, I frankly did not want to deal with that drama again. I hoped Dad would pass quietly on his own, but as many of you know, that often doesn’t happen.

So yes, as patient advocates we need to demand better communication between the hospital staff and nursing home staff. But we also need to check behind them, and then double-check, to make sure medical care orders are recorded properly. Dealing with these issues may be frustrating, but it is much better to know that you tried than to have to live with a lifetime of regrets.

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