‘Observation care’ can carry costly implications for seniors

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

“When is a hospital patient not really a hospital patient?

When he or she is classified as being in observation care.”

That’s how AHCJ’s topic leader on Aging, Judith Graham, starts an explanation of a category of care that has recently prompted questions about its growing use and the impact on seniors with Medicare coverage.

Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Oral Health
Other Topics

Observation care is meant to be used for patients who aren’t sick enough to be admitted but who aren’t well enough to be sent home without extra testing, monitoring and oversight.

But hospitals have kept some patients in observation care well beyond the 24- to 48-hour period recommended by Medicare – sometimes as long as a week or more. Only later do patients learn they were considered an “observation” patient and, thus, don’t qualify under Medicare for post-acute skilled nursing care. There are additional expense incurred by seniors in observation care.

Learn more about observation care, why hospitals are using this designation and what it means to patients in the latest addition to the Key Concepts in Aging section of AHCJ’s website. Graham has provided background and some good examples of reporting on the topic, as well as pointing journalists to state data on observation care.

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