Unless it is an emergency and you were rushed to a private hospital, getting a bed at the nearest facility can sometimes be tricky. Despite the fact that less than 25% of South Africa’s population uses private health facilities and that private hospitals have cropped up just about everywhere, there seems to be many a times when private hospitals just does not have beds available. It is no reason to panic should you need to be hospitalised but beds are unavailable – the fact is that if it is an emergency, the hospital will admit you immediately.

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Routes to Hospital Admission

Hospital admission has to be approved by your doctor. A private hospital will not just admit you for no reason and without a medical doctor’s motivation. If it is an emergency, then the doctors in trauma or the outpatient department will handle the admission. However, if you are being seen by a private doctor, then you will need a letter.

At this point you can do the following:

  • Go to the hospital and request admission with your doctor’s approval/letter.
  • Have your doctor’s staff call the hospital and reserve a bed for you.
  • Phone the hospital yourself and check if beds are available.

Before you head off to the hospital though, make sure you have the means to fund your hospital stay. Even if you do not have medical aid cover, there are different payment options for private hospital admission which can vary from one hospital to another. A private hospital in South Africa can refuse you admission if you do not have a medical aid or the cash upfront to pay a large deposit. Should finances or your medical aid cover not permit, you will then be shuttled to a government hospital for care.

Medical Aid for Hospital Admission

Even if you have medical aid, you will still need authorisation from your scheme to be admitted into a hospital. Unfortunately these days the onus often lies on the patient to call the medical aid and request authorisation. Your doctor may need to motivate for the hospital admission but the issue of the authorisation number lies between you and your medical – not with the doctor nor the hospital.

When you are unable to speak for yourself, your next of kin may then call the medical aid and request the authorisation number. It is only in an emergency, when you are in a serious condition and incapacitated that your doctor or the hospital staff will call your medical scheme and speak on your behalf to request an authorisation number. In these cases, pre-authorisation is not necessary since it is matter of life and death.

Finding a Hospital Bed

Now that you understand the basics of the hospital admission procedure, what do you do if no beds are available at private hospitals in your area? Many patients are under the misconception that if their doctor gives them an admission letter and if the medical aid provides an authorisation number, then the private hospital has to give them a bed immediately. This is unfortunately not how private hospitals work.

There are different wards in a private hospital, each with its own set number of beds. A private hospital will only admit you if there is a bed available within the ward that you need to be. It is a ‘first come first serve’ basis. If beds are unavailable at one private hospital, then the onus is on you to find another private hospital which has a bed. It is not the duty of the hospital staff, your doctor or medical aid to do so. Neither can you be given an available bed in a ward that does not fit your reason for hospital admission.

Remember that even if beds may be free now, it may be reserved for patients who booked ahead of time. There is a waiting list and you will have to follow the queue. Here are some tips for finding a hospital bed one you have your doctor’s admission letter and medical aid authorisation number in hand:

  • Make a list of 2 to 3 hospitals in your area that you would prefer being admitted to. Confirm with your doctor that he/she will attend to you in this hospital.
  • Phone each hospital and enquire about the availability of beds. Although one hospital may not have a bed now, a bed may become available in a short while. So phone again later.
  • Ask the hospital staff to put your name on the waiting list for a bed if your condition is not serious enough to warrant immediate admission. Do this at more than one hospital and wait till you get a reply.
  • Speak to the hospital staff about a private ward. Although this will cost you a little extra above and beyond what your medical aid will pay, you may be able to secure a bed in a private ward immediately.
  • Should no option arise and time is passing, consider a hospital slightly further away from your home. You can then request to be transferred to a hospital of your choice at a later stage once a bed is available. However, you may have to pay for the transport costs from your own pocket even if you do have medical aid.

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