Musculoskeletal injury contributes significantly to the burden of disease in Tanzania and other LMICs. For hospitals to cope financially with this burden, they often mandate that patients pay their entire hospital bill before leaving the hospital. This creates a phenomenon of patients who remain hospitalized solely due to financial hardship. This study aims to characterize the impact of this policy on patients and hospital systems in resource-limited settings.
A mixed-methods study using retrospective medical record review and semi-structured interviews was conducted at a tertiary hospital in Moshi, Tanzania. Information regarding patient demographics, injury type, days spent in the ward after medical clearance for discharge, and hospital invoices were collected and analyzed for orthopaedic patients treated from November 2016 to June 2017.
346 of the 867 orthopaedic patients (39.9%) treated during this time period were found to have spent additional days in the hospital due to their inability to pay their hospital bill. Of these patients, 72 patient charts were analyzed. These 72 patients spent an average of 9 additional days in the hospital due to financial hardship (range: 1–64 days; interquartile range: 2–10.5 days). They spent an average of 112,958 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) to pay for services received following medical clearance for discharge, representing 12.3% of the average total bill (916,840 TSH). 646 hospital bed-days were spent on these 72 patients when they no longer clinically required hospitalization. 7 (9.7%) patients eloped from the hospital without paying and 24 (33.3%) received financial assistance from the hospital’s social welfare office.
Many patients do not have the financial capacity to pay hospital fees prior to discharge. This reality has added significantly to these patients’ overall financial hardship and has taken hundreds of bed-days from other critically ill patients. This single-institution, cross-sectional study provides a deeper understanding of this phenomenon and highlights the need for changes in the healthcare payment structure in Tanzania and other comparable settings.