Perhaps spending more on health care can result in better health

By  |  March 15, 2012 | 

Current dogma is spend more, waste more, at least as it relates to acute care. This emanates from the work done at Dartmouth and the atlas they publish—and holds at regional, but likely not at hospital or individual levels.  Studies released over the last few years indicate we still have a lot to learn in this realm, and this most recent JAMA release does not disappoint.  It is highly relevant to hospital utilization, cost, and future actions on payment and report cards (HINT: it impacts us).  I planned on posting on it, but someone else read my mind…

This is a cross linked post, which Bill Gardner has kindly granted permission to place at THL.  I also highly recommend his site–it’s a great read, so please visit.


Perhaps spending more on health care can result in better health

post by Bill Gardner
CanadianFlagFrom JAMAa group of researchers from the University of Toronto and Dartmouth report that in a group of Ontario hospitals, “higher spending intensity was associated with lower mortality, readmissions, and cardiac event rates.”

As noted in an accompanying editorial, this finding appears to contradict some previous research by the same group suggesting that large differences in US spending on health care had little effect on medical outcomes. In many cases, it seems that the intensity of medical spending reflects the interest of the provider more than the patient.

CanadianMortalityIn large data sets of Ontarian patients, however, it appears that patients did benefit from more intensive medical services. The Figure plots mortality rates as a function of the End of Life Expenditure Index (EoL-EI), which is the amount that a hospital typical spent on patients in their last years of life, adjusted for the age and sex of the patient. Being to the left in this plot meant that patients were more likely to survive. What the results showed was that across several important conditions, Ontario hospitals that typically spent more on patients at the end of life had better survival rates. The authors are carefully to note that the observational design of the study means that one cannot infer that spending more money actual causes better health outcomes.

So why do we find this association in Canada, but not the US?

Canadian hospitals, with fewer specialized resources, selective access to medical technology, and global budgets, are using these resources more efficiently, especially during the inpatient episode for care-sensitive conditions. Canada’s health care expenditures per capita are about 57% of those in the United States. At this spending level, there might still be a positive association between spending and outcomes.

That is, US hospitals spend more intensively, to a point where additional spending in the US no longer brings additional patient benefit. Canadian hospitals spend much less, and are at a point where an additional loonie is associated with additional benefit for patients. There is no evidence here about whether Canadian care is better than US care, but it is almost certainly more cost-effective.

Posted at 04:38 PM | Permalink

About the Author:

Brad Flansbaum
Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, MHM works for Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA in both the divisions of hospital medicine and population health. He began working as a hospitalist in 1996, at the inception of the hospital medicine movement. He is a founding member of the Society of Hospital Medicine and served as a board member and officer. He speaks nationally in promoting hospital medicine and has presented at many statewide meetings and conferences. He is also actively involved in house staff education. Currently, he serves on the SHM Public Policy Committee and has an interest in payment policy, healthcare market competition, health disparities, cost-effectiveness analysis, and pain and palliative care. He is SHM’s delegate for the AMA House of Delegates. Dr. Flansbaum received his undergraduate degree from Union College in Schenectady, NY and attended medical school at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his residency and chief residency in Internal Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York. He received his M.P.H. in Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is a political junky, and loves to cook, stay fit, read non-fiction, listen to many genres of music, and is a resident of Danville, PA.


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