Report Studies Hospital Negligence

Uninsured Face Much Greater Risk, Harvard Study Shows

Uninsured patients suffer from hospital negligence more than twice as often a patients with insurance, according to a medical study conducted by three Harvard professors and released yesterday.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was written by Harvard Medical School Instructor Helen R. Burstin, Assistant Professor of Medicine Troyen A. Brennan and Assistant Professor of Biostatistics Stuart R. Lipsitz.

According to the report, patients without insurance usually do not receive regular medical care, but instead seek less reliable emergency room care. Hospitals often take blood and X-ray tests of uninsured patients, but send them home without checking the results.

In addition, overworked hospital staffs and an overwhelming influx of patients contribute to the problem, Lipsitz said yesterday.

In an interview yesterday, Burstin said lack of insurance is the dominant factor in negligent hospital treatment, overshadowing other variables.

"Even with data adjusted for people's race, income and gender, we found that uninsured people were 2.35 times as likely to have a negligent event in the hospital than those that were insured," said Burstin, who analyzed the study last year to finish her research fellowship.

The survey studied 31,429 files of patients discharged from New York state hospitals in 1984, Lipsitz said.

Need for Health Reform

Burstin said the article indicates a need for adequate universal health care.

"It's time to change the health care system to give everyone access to health care," she said.

Lipsitz, who compiled the statistics, echoed Burstin's call for a revamped health care system.

"I think it gives another shot in the arm for the hope of universal health care," he said.

Although he has seen similar studies on hospital negligence, Lipsitz said, the new survey is significant because of its relatively large scope.

"This is one of the biggest studies, and the sample was drawn to get more precise estimates," he said.