The financial effect of the avian flu on hospitals that treat stricken patients likely will be enormous, predicted James Romeis, Ph.D., professor of health services research at Saint Louis University.

“If avian flu occurred in the U.S., a large financial loss would probably be borne by the treating institution unless the government offsets losses not covered by insurance,” Romeis says. “We may be reasonably well prepared to respond to the clinical aspects of the epidemic, but may be inadequately prepared for the economic and operational impact. What will not be reimbursed is the lost business at hospitals, and those indirect losses can be enormous.”

Romeis made his observations based on the impact of SARS on the Taiwanese health care system in 2002-2003. He found that patients there delayed care, postponed elective procedures and stayed away from the emergency rooms of hospitals known to treat SARS patients because they were afraid of contracting the disease.

“For instance, during the peak of the SARS crisis, the National Taiwan University Hospital’s number of surgeries dropped from 3,576 in May 2002 to 519 in May 2003, an astonishing decrease rate of 85 percent,” he said. “At one point early in the epidemic, the hospital temporarily closed down its emergency room.”

Without national government reimbursement, the hospitals would have lost millions of dollars related to decreases in hospital utilization, he says.

MEDICA.de; Source: Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center