Economic, Social Issues Forcing Patients to Leave Hospitals Early

Understandably, no one likes to contemplate a long hospital stay. However, an alarming new trend is emerging whereby patients are leaving hospitals against medical advice (AMA), exposing themselves to potential complications that could otherwise have been avoided.

According to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study, there has been a 39 percent increase in patients leaving AMA since 1997, with 370,000 patients leaving early in 2008. The AHRQ also noted:

  • The top illnesses patients left AMA included chest pain with no determined cause, substance-related disorders, depression or other mood disorders and diabetes with complications.
  • In 22 percent of the cases the patient was completely uninsured.
  • Men were more likely to leave AMA than women.

While it is unclear if there is one driving factor behind the trend, Anne Elixhauser, a researcher who contributed to the study, recently told The New York Times that patients may leave AMA because of a combination of the cost of medical care and a need to take care of family members during hard economic times. The agency noted that in 2008, hospital patients averaged a four-day hospital stay, with nearly $7,000 in costs per day.

Patients Leaving Early Risk Health Complications, Lose Legal Rights

Leaving AMA is not only bad for you for health reasons; it can make you lose legal protection in the future. Thirteen states, including California, have something called "pure contributory negligence." This means that if a person caused a portion of his or her injury, the compensation for injuries is reduced accordingly. Under this legal theory, it is possible for an injured victim to obtain only 1 percent of damages, if he or she was 99 percent at fault.

Leaving AMA can therefore prevent a patient from obtaining compensation for medical negligence. Losing this protection is significant, as one in 139 patients will be the victim of a medical error, and measurable medical errors account for $17.1 billion in medical costs annually, according to a recent Health Affairs magazine article.

If you have been injured by medical negligence, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Even if you contributed to your harm, such as by leaving AMA, there is a possibility that you may be able to recover some of the medical expenses arising from the negligence.