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Another Look At Geographic Variation In Poverty And Healthcare

MedPAC has released another report in which they have tried to explain variation in healthcare utilization among metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), of which there are approximately 400. MSAs more-or-less correspond to Dartmouth’s 306 hospital referral regions (HRRs), and the conclusions reached by the Dartmouth folks and MedPAC tend to correspond. In commenting about MedPAC’s last report, issued in December 2009, I noted that the major variation was caused by high Medicare expenditures in seven southern states, where patients are poorer and sicker and use much more care.   

In their new report, MedPAC went a step beyond measuring expenditures, which they adjusted for prices and other factors in their last report, to measuring the actual units of service, a far better way to assess the healthcare system. MedPAC’s new findings on the distribution of service use in MSAs are graphed below:

Based on this new approach, MedPAC concluded: “Although service use varies less than spending, the amount of service provided to beneficiaries still varies substantially. Specifically, service use in higher use areas (90th percentile) is 30 percent greater than in lower use areas (10th percentile); the analogous figure for spending is about 55 percent. What policies should be pursued in light of these findings is beyond the scope of this paper, which is meant only to inform policymakers on the nature and extent of regional variation in Medicare service use. However, we do note that at the extremes, there is nearly a two-fold difference between the MSA with the greatest service use and the MSA with the least.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

Primary Care, Poverty, And Mortality In England And America

It is an article of faith that, in Barbara Starfield’s words, adults whose regular source of care is a primary care physician rather than a specialist have lower mortality, even after accounting for differences in income, and she draws upon studies at both the county and state levels to prove it. Now a new paper in JAMA about England’s Primary Care Trusts refocuses the discussion on poverty.

While Starfield’s county-level studies are often cited as evidence that more primary care physicians and fewer specialists lead to lower mortality, they actually showed virtually no differences at all. And when repeated by Ricketts, the small differences noted were not consistent throughout various regions of the U.S. On the other hand, “counties with high income-inequality experienced much higher mortality.” So, in reality, the county studies demonstrated the strong impact of poverty and the marginal impact (if any) of primary care. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

A Model Medical Community For The Nation?

In a high-profile paper in the September issue of Health Affairs, Thorson and coworkers showed that the care at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, CO was superior to that of 20 other unnamed hospitals. Grand Junction is, of course the smal town in SW Colorado that became famous when President Obama visited there during the health care reform debates during the summer of 2009, and here’s what he said:

“Hello, Grand Junction! It’s great to be back in Southwest Colorado. Here in Grand Junction, you know that lowering costs is possible if you put in place smarter incentives; if you think about how to treat people, not just illnesses. That’s what the medical community in this city did; now you are getting better results while wasting less money.”

So, Grand Junction, a town of 58,000 people located  in SE Colorado, where there are virtually no blacks and fewer Native Americans but where family practice rules, is supposed to be the model for the nation. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

Latest Interviews

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Latest Book Reviews

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When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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