Last week, I commented on a New York Times story that appeared Wednesday, June 2, attacking the Dartmouth Research. The work that Dartmouth has done over the past two decades suggests that hospitals in some parts of the country are over-treating patients. Over-treatment means that patients who didn’t need to be in the hospital in the first place are exposed to the side effects of treatment as well as gruesome hospital- acquired infections, medication mix-ups and a host of other medical errors. Thus unnecessary care puts patients at risk while helping to drive health care bills heavenward— and suggests that we could rein in Medicare spending by squeezing some of that hazardous waste out of the system. But according to the Times: “Data [from Dartmouth] Used to Justify Health Savings Effort is Sometimes Shaky.”
In Part 1 of this post I discussed what two of the Times’ sources told me about how the Times’ reporters misrepresented what they said. Both Harvard economist David Cutler and Yale’s Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz complained that the story made it seem that they are critics of the research, when in fact they agree with Dartmouth on the basic message of the data, and see the work as, in Krumholz’ words “pivotal to moving us forward . . . we all agree that there is lots of waste and it is unevenly distributed across the country.” A third source in Washington D.C. who talked to the Times reporters confided that they seemed to have a clear agenda: “to take down Dartmouth.”
Today, I received evidence from yet another unhappy source—the Wisconsin Collaborative for HealthCare Quality, a voluntary consortium of organizations working to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of healthcare in Wisconsin. Chris Queram, the Collaborative’s president, and Jack Bowhan, who guides the development of value metrics for the group, report that they tried to caution New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris that he was misusing their data, “comparing apples to grapefruits,” and “jumping to a conclusions that you just can’t make.” Harris ignored their warnings.
As proof, they produced a series of e-mails that they sent to Harris, and with their permission, I’m quoting from those messages. But first, an excerpt from the Times’ story talking about the Collaborative’s data.