The Costs of Staying in Hospital Too Long

Dear Dan,
I’m a physician, and it seems to me that people often stay in the hospital for too long. (One piece of evidence: Many more patients get discharged from the hospital on weekends.) Prolonged hospitalizations cost a lot of money and mean that beds aren’t available for people who need them. How can we change this?
—George

Think of three parties involved in decisions about staying an extra day in the hospital: the doctor, the patient and the family. All three would benefit from having patients discharged before the weekend: The doctors have fewer patients to deal with, the patients get to return to their loved ones, and the families can stay home rather than making one more hospital visit. Maybe we should try to make every day in the hospital feel like Friday.

Here’s a more concrete idea: Why not take one channel on the hospital’s internal TV system and dedicate it to people’s bills? The channel could present patients with real-time information about their bill, showing it rising with every meal, treatment and round of medication. It could also show the charges expected over the next 24 hours. My guess is that this change would spur people to leave the hospital much sooner.

Dear Dan,
How can we encourage people to eat less meat? Lots of people consider it cruel to kill animals and identify emotionally with vegetarians but still choose to eat pork, chicken and steak.
—Vered

Sadly, our choices—moral and otherwise—often aren’t the result of what we know but what we feel, and feelings have their quirks. In my field, there is something called the Identifiable Victim Effect, which shows that people can care deeply about a single, specific tragedy (such as the death of one Syrian refugee) yet care little about vast atrocities involving thousands or even millions of people (such as the Syrian crisis).

A similar principle applies to the ways we think about treating (and eating) animals. During a 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the U.K., the authorities had more than 2 million farm animals slaughtered near infected areas. It was tragic for the animals, the farmers and the British economy, but the decision didn’t produce much public complaint—until one day, when newspapers published front-page photos of a cute little calf in Devon that survived the killing. That picture spurred a public outcry against the wholesale slaughter and, according to the Associated Press, may have helped produce “a change of heart by the British government” that ultimately helped end the killing. The abstract concept of slaughtering legions of cows, pig and sheep did nothing, but the adorable face of one calf made people sad and drove them to take action: the Identifiable Victim Effect at work.

So your best bet may be to wait for the ideal opportunity for a pro-vegetarianism campaign, ideally involving one particularly cute animal.

Meanwhile, you could encourage people to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals,” which describes in vivid detail the conditions in which the creatures we consume are forced to live and die. Reading it made it hard for me to even look at a burger without thinking about what happened to the cow that it came from.

Dear Dan,
What’s the best love note one could write?
—Peter

The ideal message would show confidence, deep desire, a capacity for romance and optimism about your shared future. With all these in mind, I’d suggest, “Would you give me the opportunity to sweep you off your feet?”