Hospitals are busily merging with other hospitals and buying up groups of doctors. They claim that size brings efficiency and the opportunity to deliver more “value-based” care — and fewer unnecessary services.
They argue that they have to get bigger to cut waste. What’s the evidence that bigger hospitals offer better value? Not a lot.
If you think of value as some combination of needed services delivered for the right price, large hospitals are no better than small hospitals on both counts.
The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and other sources have shown time and again that some of the biggest and best-known U.S. hospitals are no less guilty of subjecting patients to useless tests and marginal treatments.
Larger hospitals are also very good at raising prices. In 2010, an analysis for the Massachusetts attorney general found no correlation between price and quality of care.
A study published recently in Health Affairs offered similar results for the rest of the country: On average, higher-priced hospitals are bigger, but offer no better quality of care.
The Illinois hospital dinosaurs continue to defy evolution and prove that they are not extinct. I am talking about our health facilities planning board, which just turned down another Certificate of Need application for a new hospital, this time in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The board justified the decision by stating that the new hospital would harm existing hospitals.
I know that the Chicago School of economics tells us that regulators serve the interests of those they regulate, usually at the expense of the public. But just because the Illinois planning board sits in Chicago, that doesn’t mean they have to slavishly follow the Chicago School. They could act in the public interest at least once in a while! (Though if the board started approving too many new health facilities, someone might notice that they are not needed and put them out of a job.)
Two of the largest healthcare systems in the Twin Cities have announced plans to merge – and if approved it will created the second largest hospital system in Minnesota in terms of revenue (Mayo Clinic is first).
For those non-Midwesterners – the geographical environs of the Twin Cities Metro area comprise a 50 mile circumference anchored by Minneapolis to the west and St. Paul to the east. At a high level, this move essentially links West (Park Nicollet) and East (HealthPartners) and according to news releases from both organizations, the combined health system will include more than 20,000 employees and 1,500 multispecialty physicians. However, there is a more compelling angle to this story.
On the surface the motivation for this move could be primarily economic: The average operating margin for a U.S. hospital is 2.5% — tough financial sledding in a disrupted and crowded market. Overly simplified, the economics of a hospital requires keeping beds full (aka “heads in beds”) … and as hospitals today strive to better align with physicians in order to get more than their fair share of referrals, a range of new business models and ways to engage consumers are emerging in the marketplace.