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A private hospital room was once almost a luxury. Today, private rooms are increasingly standard at many southeast Michigan hospitals, and shared rooms are being phased out to reduce the possibility of hospital-acquired infections and improve comfort for patients and their visitors.

Hospitals traditionally charged more for a private room, but this move toward more private rooms is typically not resulting in higher costs, according to health care insiders, because major payers such as Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan now have policies against paying extra simply based on the sort of room a patient is in.

All 264 patient rooms in the new $920 million adult hospital announced last month by the University of Michigan will be private, replacing the 55 two-person rooms at University Hospital. The new hospital is expected to break ground at the end of the month and open in fall 2024.

U-M’s hospital system envisions a future with 100% private rooms because private rooms are quieter, offer a better experience for patients, make visits easier and help combat the spread of infections, a major risk in hospitals, according to Shon Dwyer, executive director of U-M’s University Hospital and Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

“The recent hospitals that we’ve built, we’ve built them all private rooms,” Dwyer said. “So this is our journey to convert everything to private rooms.”

Other hospital systems have been putting more private rooms into their new or newly renovated hospitals since the 2000s.

Current state regulations allow up to two patients per hospital room. Those regulations, which date to 2007, cite several disadvantages to private hospital rooms.

“Space limitations as well as increased patient falls, construction costs and travel distances represent the downside of requiring all private rooms,” the regulations say.

However, a hospital industry group, the nonprofit Facility Guidelines Institute, which has recommended since 2010 that all new U.S. hospitals only contain private, single-bed rooms for patients, says the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is preparing to update those regulations to require new hospitals in the state to be 100% private rooms.

The department spokesperson was unable to comment Tuesday about current or proposed hospital room regulations.

More: Hospitals now required to list prices online for every medical procedure, service

The Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, known as one of the most deluxe, amenity-filled hospitals in the state, opened a decade ago with 190 all-private rooms that were specially built to eliminate any disruptive noise from hallways or adjoining rooms.

“The rooms are really really quiet when the door is closed, and it helps patients with sleeping and how comfortable they can be overnight and heal,” said Dr. Betty Chu, associate chief clinical officer and chief quality officer for the Henry Ford Health System.

Multiple studies have found that private hospital rooms can cut the risk of hospital-acquired infections.

One study, published in 2016 in the Journal of Critical Care, found that even though private rooms are more costly to build and operate than shared rooms, they can still result in overall savings by avoiding the costs associated with really bad antibiotic-resistant infections.

A representative for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association said there is no statewide data available on the number of private rooms compared with shared rooms across the state.

A Free Press review of master price lists, known as chargemasters, for southeast Michigan hospital systems found several hospitals with slightly higher sticker prices for private rooms compared with shared rooms, typically called “semi-private” rooms.

However, those prices are different from what insurance companies and even uninsured patients ultimately pay. 

“Since most insurers and payers (including traditional Medicare) contract with hospitals to pay a fixed amount per inpatient admission, patients typically will not pay more for a private room versus a semi-private room,” Beaumont Health spokesman Robert Ortlieb said.

A Blue Cross representative said the insurance giant no longer pays more for a private room than a shared room. That policy has been in place for at least a decade.

“Blue Cross pays hospitals for the treatment of patient conditions, not the types of rooms patients are assigned by hospitals,” spokesperson Helen Stojic said.

Dwyer, the U-M health system hospital executive, said the difference in construction costs between private rooms versus shared rooms has not come up in discussions for the new hospital project.

It is typically more expensive to build only private rooms, as more of them are required.

“We have never talked about the differential cost between the two because we believe so much that (private rooms) are really a priority,” Dwyer said.

“The goal is to not have any shared hospital rooms,” she said.

Contact JC Reindlat 313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@jcreindl. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

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