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Your Patient's Roommate May Have a Bigger Impact Than You Do

Posted by Lawrence Kerr on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 @ 06:03 AM

roomates.jpgAs healthcare providers, we believe we're doing everything we can for our patients. 

We're providing the standard of care, always looking for better medicines, better protocols, better surgical techniques, better ways of caring. 

But I recently stumbled upon one factor in patient outcomes that very few providers are aware of -- and the effects of it can be staggering. Even if this finding doesn't apply to your practice directly, I think there are important lessons to be learned for all healthcare providers, across contexts.

A recent article in the American Journal of Health Economics, looked at the effect of the health or sickness of a patient's roommate on that patient's health. They found that there is significant "spillover" of health from healthier roommates to less healthy roommates. In fact, patients with healthier roommates needed less care during hospitalization, lower rates of readmission, better condition at discharge, shorter length of hospital stay, and lower hospitalization costs.

As the New York Times reports, "a patient who rooms with the healthiest roommate has a hospital stay that is about eight hours shorter, requiring 27 percent less medical attention, and costing about $840 less."

Crucially, the study controlled for the factors that nurses used to assign patients to rooms, including diagnosis and specific room assignment. Even looking at one room, patients with healthier roommates had better outcomes than those with sicker roommates. 

In terms of appropriate action based on the findings, it’s not 100% obvious what might be implied. For patients, it could be worthwhile to advocate for themselves, requesting a different roommate if they find themselves with a sicker one. 

But for providers, the findings are much more applicable. With Length of Stay such a crucial metric for providers, these findings are astounding. A stay that's shorter by 8 hours and almost one-third less medical attention is powerful -- and hard to beat. 

There may be specific ways to approach the assignment of patients to rooms that will optimize around this dynamic. But more interesting to me are the higher-level takeaways that the study points at. 

Two takeaways from the findings that patients have better results if they have healthier roommates:

1. Peer influence is crucial.

The study seems to point to the influence that peers can have on patient progress. In fact Peer Support is a burgeoning part of the field, with significant positive consequences for health outcomes. This is one reason that we made iClickCare so accessible and powerful for collaborations among people across the continuum of care, including providers not traditionally included in many care decisions, like occupational therapists, teachers, family members, social workers, and aides. If peers are on one side of the continuum and super-specialists are on the other side, then we advocate for including as wide of a spectrum of care as possible, in the acknowledgement that -- as in the case of roommates -- the rewards can be significant.

2. Care is more than just medical intervention, and there are rewards for addressing the full picture.

When we look at Length of Stay metrics, we are trained to look at "hard" factors, like the disease, intervention, skill level of the practitioner, etc. What surprised me about this study is that it almost takes on the issue from "peripheral vision" -- it's looking at a soft, often ignored, almost irrelevant-seeming factor in outcomes. iClickCare is made to facilitate inclusion of precisely this kind of variable, and to keep all the factors in one place. Whether it's a patient's hobby, where he/she lives, his/her interests or fears, or details of behavior or presentation that only the aide would notice -- you should choose a medical collaboration tool that captures the whole picture. 


Certainly, the factors influencing the roommate phenomenon haven't been completely explored yet. And there certainly aren't easy answers for room assignments based on the results. But we're grateful to the researchers for their creativity in exploring the issue. And we encourage you to use the same kind of creativity in applying the findings.


Use a healthcare collaboration tool that takes all the factors into account. Get iClickCare free for 2 weeks:

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Tags: medical collaboration, healthcare collaboration, decrease readmissions, decrease length of stay

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