Patients beware: Physician care at rehabilitation facilities can be sparse

Rehabilitation hospitals market themselves as facilities where patients can continue to receive health care after they are ready to be discharged from a regular acute care hospital, but are not quite ready to go home.

Sometimes, though, I believe patients would be better off going home. Let me explain why.

I have handled a number of medical malpractice lawsuits concerning rehabilitation hospitals like the Triumph/Kindred system and Reliant Rehabilitation. One of the common themes I see in these cases is very limited physician involvement in the care that is provided. In fact, some clients and their families have told me that the physicians are entirely absent.

For example, I am currently prosecuting a lawsuit against a Houston-area hospitalist physician who provided care to a patient at the Kindred rehabilitation facility in Sugar Land, Texas.

When I took the doctor's deposition, he testified under oath that an attending physician could meet the standard of care by seeing a skilled nursing facility (SNF) patient only once a month.

The hospitalist also testified that it would have been “reasonable” for a new patient at the facility to wait one month before being seen by a physician.

A lot can happen in a month. Even though there are nurses, of varying degrees of competence, staffing rehabilitation hospitals, a patient’s condition needs to be monitored by a physician. And when the doctor does not show up at the facility to see the patient, or is repeatedly unavailable by phone, that can be a big problem.

I recommend that any patient in a rehabilitation hospital have a family member or friend present to help monitor the care and act as an advocate.

Find out who the attending physician for the patient, and ask the nursing staff to tell you that doctor’s schedule for visiting the facility. Most physicians who see patients at rehabilitation hospitals actually travel to many hospitals, so it will be important for the advocate to be present at the facility when the doctor is scheduled to be there.

If a problem develops in the patient’s condition, such as a change in behavior, a bad fever, vomiting, or anything concerning, insist that the nurses get the physician on the phone. If the physician is not responsive, ask to speak to the facility administrator on duty to get the help you need.

If you cannot get physician attention, you may need to consider calling 911—I have had a few cases recently where a rehabilitation hospital patient’s condition deteriorated so much that a family member had to do exactly that.

Earlier I said that I believe that some patients would be better off being discharged from an acute care hospital to home, rather than a rehabilitation facility. The reason is if the patient goes home, family or friends will be keeping a careful watch, and if something goes wrong the patient will get taken back to the hospital.

If you or a loved one is sent to a rehabilitation hospital, I encourage you to stay attentive, ask lots of polite questions and make sure that the proper care and attention are being given.

If you or someone close to you has been injured by rehabilitation hospital or physician care, Painter Law Firm attorneys are available to discuss your potential case. Call us at 281-580-8800.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.