WSJ looks at effects of Penn. outcomes database

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Thomas Burton has taken a look at the effects of one state’s commitment to publishing hospital data. Since 1989 Pennsylvania has compiled and published data on hospital outcomes and, to a lesser extent, costs. Collecting the data isn’t cheap, estimates of the cost to the state’s 172 acute-care hospitals range from $7 million to $10 million, but Burton’s story makes it clear that the investment has paid off. Burton reinforces that impression with statistics (“An August 2008 study in the American Journal of Medical Quality reported that Pennsylvania in-hospital odds of death were 21% to 41% lower than those in other states.”) and convincing examples (by basing their health plans on outcomes data, companies were able to save millions). His profile of a now-defunct Hershey company plan is particularly interesting.

“High-quality care costs less — always,” says David B. Nash, a medical-quality expert and dean at Thomas Jefferson University’s School of Population Health in Philadelphia. “If the federal government could behave like a savvy shopper, that would change the health-cost game overnight. But the government is a bill payer, not a savvy shopper.”

Burton also reports that some stakeholders, given the success of Pennsylvania’s example, are pushing for hospital outcomes research to be part of the $1 billion stimulus investment into comparative effectiveness.

The White House is looking at publishing information possibly including medical outcomes as part of overhaul efforts, officials say. Quality data could also be used in existing programs. “There is a clear understanding from the Obama administration that both Medicare and Medicaid need to move in the direction of what’s happening in Pennsylvania,” says Jonathan Blum, director of the government’s Center for Medicare Management.

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