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Medical Malpractice Liability in the Era of Micro-Hospitals

Medical Malpractice Liability in the Era of Mini hospitals ERs

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A new trend is changing the nation’s medical landscape. Health systems across the country are opening smaller, scaled-down versions of traditional hospitals – typically in suburban areas. These facilities are being dubbed “micro-hospitals” or “neighborhood hospitals.”

A report by WBAA describes them as “a cross between a small hospital found in rural settings and an urgent care clinic.” Many of these facilities offer not only emergency room care but also up to dozen beds for short-term hospital stays.

The trend has taken hold in central Indiana and in many other areas of the state. For instance, St. Vincent launched five micro-hospitals in recent years in the Indianapolis area, including one in Avon. The hospital system plans to open several more in the coming years, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ).

Many of the same medical malpractice liability issues that can arise in traditional hospital emergency rooms can also arise in these new micro-hospitals. As we discuss below, micro-hospitals can present additional challenging issues as well.

How Are Micro-Hospitals Different from Other Hospitals?

As the name indicates, micro-hospitals are basically smaller versions of traditional hospitals. They range from 15,000 to 60,000 square feet, according to CNBC, and they offer slightly more services and continuity in care than a patient would find at an urgent care center or freestanding emergency room. For instance, most micro-hospitals have features such as imaging equipment, labs, pharmacies and a limited number of beds.

Micro-hospitals typically provide patients with emergency care or “middle to medium high acuity care,” according to Health Care Finance. Most of these facilities belong to a larger health system. So, they will refer or transfer a patient to the system’s “flagship” hospital if the patient needs intensive or specialized care.

The three main benefits that micro-hospitals appear to offer are:

  • Convenience – Most micro-hospitals are located in growing suburban communities (and typically areas with high-income households), where the demand is high for accessible medical care that goes beyond what an urgent care clinic provides. For example, St. Vincent’s five neighborhood hospitals are located in Avon, Noblesville, Plainfield, Castleton and south Indianapolis.”The No. 1 trend in health care is convenience – moving out to where the people are,” one health care industry expert told The South Bend Tribune in an article about a new 32,800-square foot micro-hospital in Granger, which is a thriving community located just outside of South Bend.
  • Personalized, continuous care – Unlike a “mega-hospital” that may provide care and treatment to hundreds of patients over the course of a day, a micro-hospital may see only 30 to 60 patients per day in its emergency room, Health Care Finance notes. The environment can be less intimidating and more personalized than what a patient may encounter at a larger hospital. Patients in these smaller facilities may also get follow-up care from the same doctor or receive monitoring overnight.
  • Faster service – The benefit which micro-hospitals tout the most is the shorter wait times for patients. In a press release announcing the opening of its neighborhood hospital in Castleton, St. Vincent reported that median wait times at the first three facilities it had opened was only nine minutes. Faster service, of course, serves as more than a convenience for patients – in some cases, it may save their lives.

Despite these benefits, many in the health care industry have also voiced skepticism about micro-hospitals. Some critics believe that the hospitals may simply add more hospital beds to areas that already have enough of them. Instead of being located in underserved rural areas, most of these facilities are opening in suburban areas which are not too far from larger hospitals. Another concern is finding enough qualified personnel to staff the facilities.

Negligence Can Still Occur in Micro-Hospital Emergency Rooms

Although they represent a new trend in the world of medicine, the reality is that the same types of emergency room malpractice that occur at larger hospitals can also occur in micro-hospitals. If a facility is understaffed, it could arguably increase patients’ risk of receiving negligent care. Overworked and stressed out doctors and nurses – no matter what type of facility they work at – can make mistakes that carry serious consequences for patients and their families.

For instance, diagnostic errors continue to be one of the main problems in emergency room care. In fact, in its most recent analysis, Diederich Healthcare identified diagnostic errors as the leading cause of medical malpractice claims in our country. According to Everyday Health, the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions include heart attacks, strokes, aortic dissection, pulmonary embolism, cancer, Lyme disease and depression.

One of the challenging issues in a micro-hospital negligence case may be identifying all of the parties who should be held accountable for the harm that a patient has suffered. For example, in many medical malpractice cases, a patient will bring a claim against not only the individual medical professional (or professionals) who committed the harmful medical error but also against the medical professional’s employer. If a case involves a micro-hospital, that employer could be the neighborhood hospital, the larger health system that owns the facility and/or another company that entered into a joint venture with the hospital or health system to open and operate the facility.

Get Help from an Experienced Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorney

As you can see, a case of suspected medical negligence at a micro-hospital could present complex legal issues. For that reason, if you believe that you or a loved one suffered harm due to sub-standard care at one of these facilities, you should seek help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney who stays on top of the latest trends and developments in the health care industry and the law. Contact Baker & Gilchrist today. We will provide a free and comprehensive review of your case and help you to determine the options that may be available to you.