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Hearts on Fire: a Tale of Two Californias

The concept of practice variation raised its ugly head again this weekend in the northern California news media. And buried in the stories are several themes for our ages. But the conclusion is, the power of individual health systems and very small numbers of physicians to change patterns–and the cost–of care are enormous.

First the stories. Both about health care but also both revealing the future of investigative reporting. The BayCitizen is a non-profit blog about the San Francisco metro, created as response to the local papers cutting their reporting. It also provides stories to the NY Times–I’m unaware about how much of its revenue comes from the Times, but it’s part of  the Times’ entry into non-NY competition with retreating local papers.

For this story on heart program readmission picked up on an older UCSF press release and showed how UCSF used a $500K+ donation from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation (that’s the Moore of Intel & Moore’s law fame) to create a very sensible program that gave in-home support to newly discharged elderly cardiac patients. It cut readmission rates by 30%. The BayCitizen though will upset Gary Schwitzer as it did not include the actual numbers but the UCSF press release does, and yes this is a relative not an absolute cut. Here’s the key graf

Over the past 11 months, only 16 percent, on average, of the hospital’s heart failure patients were readmitted within a month of discharge, down from 23 percent in 2006. That’s well below the national 30-day readmission rate of 25 percent. The average readmission rate was 11.6 percent during the first four months of 2011.

So UCSF was about average and got much better and seems to be getting better still–but there’s quite a way to go. But it is an indication that at least one AMC is capable of moving the ball in the right direction. Of course UCSF is a leader in the pro-Dartmouth “use resources sensibly” camp, and we may or may not see the “keep em alive at all costs” folks at UCLA follow suit.

Meanwhile up in rural northern California it looks like the same Dartmouth data set is about to bring a series of visits from the FBI. Continue reading…

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