Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The stiff in the CAT scanner

It was Friday before a three day weekend. The patient was very old and weak, nearly comatose, when we slid him into the scanner. Started her up and the scanner whirred away. When the scan was done, we slid the patient out.
Trouble started there. The patient had died while the scan was running. Being late on Friday all the doctors had left for the weekend. We couldn't find anyone to sign the death certificate. Couldn't send a body to the morgue without a death certificate. We couldn't go home leaving a dead body in the lab. What to do? Finally we rolled the gurney into the elevator and sent the deceased back up to the ward. Let the ward nurse cope.
I heard that story from our CAT scan sales guy, who had been a CAT scan tech before coming to work for us.
I always wondered about the doctor who ordered that scan. Here he has a patient at death's door, and all he does is order an expensive imaging procedure? He can't tell the patient is in a bad way by just looking at him? Or using a stethoscope?
But I'll bet the hospital billed that CAT scan and Medicare paid for it. A few thousand dollars spent that did nothing to improve or extend that poor patient's life.
Records show that 30% of all health care expenditures are incurred in the last year of the patient's life. How much of that money actually helps the patient, as opposed to just making money for the providers?

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