Med school prof: Dartmouth Atlas is ‘malarkey’

Andrew Van Dam

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.

In a story done in collaboration with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kaiser Health News’ Jordan Rau’s report on a leading physician’s provocative attack on the Dartmouth Atlas gets off to a lively start:

As he raced through the U.S. Capitol this fall, Dr. Richard “Buz” Cooper, a 73-year-old University of Pennsylvania medical school professor, didn’t mince words. He denounced as “malarkey” a reigning premise of the health care debate – that one-third of the nation’s $2.5 trillion in annual health spending is unnecessary – and said that the idea came from “a bunch of clowns.”

Digging beyond these inflammatory comments, Rau finds that Cooper’s argument revolves around one idea: That the research “doesn’t take into account the high cost of helping the impoverished, who often spend more time in hospitals because they don’t have people to care for them at home and often return to the hospital when they can’t afford needed medications.”

Meanwhile, the Atlas folks’ response has been as blunt as Cooper’s attacks. They say the Penn researcher is wrong and doesn’t adequately understand Dartmouth’s statistical controls.

“It’s impossible to carry on a debate with somebody who does not understand statistics, and seems uninterested in learning,” Jonathan Skinner, a senior author of the Atlas, says of Cooper.

Most experts seem to be lining up on the Dartmouth side of the dispute, and Rau digs past the “clowns” and “malarkey” and helps readers understand the validity of Cooper’s criticism and the Atlas.

Related

To learn more about the Dartmouth Atlas and how to use it to determine how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States, read AHCJ’s Covering Hospitals, a slim guide that focuses on how journalists can best use Dartmouth Atlas and Hospital Compare.

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