In a post 2 weeks ago, I discussed why elderly patients don’t get out of bed and walk when hospitalized. You can read it here. I wrote that a major reason that staff does not have time to walk patients is that they are too busy documenting useless checkboxes on the electronic medical record.

The New York Times article about the negative effects of bed rest on the elderly that led me to write the post stated that “hospital nurses seemed grateful” when the author offered to walk her father. She also mentioned that she had to supply a walker, robe, and slippers.

My next question is: Could this be the first step toward third-world medicine? [Pun intended.]

We’ve all heard stories about how in certain countries, families must provide hospitalized patients with bedding, food, and basic hygiene.

A recent article about a family’s experiences with a relative who had surgery in Cuba illustrates the point.

The author wrote, “Prior to the trip [to Cuba], my wife wisely purchased towels and two sets of sheets and pillowcases for her mother’s use during her hospital stay. In addition, we packed several aerosol cans of spray disinfectant, special soap used for sponge baths, and a room air-freshener that plugs into to an electrical outlet.

Regarding the postoperative stay, he says, “The next 2 days for me was [sic] spent shuttling food and juice to the hospital for my wife and her mother.”

“At the end of the third day, my mother-in-law had arranged to trade her used sheets and towels for a week’s supply of Vicodin and Percocet with another MD on staff.”

Is this where we are headed?

First, families start walking the patients because the nurses are “too busy” to do it.

Next, will we have to bring linens and food and barter for medications?

Maybe it won’t be that difficult. The way it is now, a family member should be present at the bedside of any relative who might be sedated or confused to help prevent some of the thousands of medical errors that occur each day.

If someone is going to be standing watch anyway, he might as well bring food and sheets and get the patient out of bed too. Maybe we could also enlist the relative to do some of the charting in the electronic medical record.

Of course, there are always loose ends.

What happens if the patient has no relatives who are free to spend days in the hospital caring for him or has no family at all?

Where is all that money that hospitals are making by overcharging everyone going?

Skeptical Scalpel is a recently retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last two years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages over 900 page views per day, and he has over 6,100 followers on Twitter.