By Kim Bellard, July 18, 2014
When it comes to hospitals, we may need to paraphrase Lincoln: they can treat all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but they can't -- or, rather, they shouldn't -- try to treat all of the people all of the time.
US News & World Report just released their annual "Best Hospitals" rankings. They evaluated nearly 5,000 hospitals against a detailed methodology
What struck me was that, out of those nearly 5,000 hospitals, only 144 scored a national ranking in even one specialty. None -- I repeat that, none -- ranked in all 16 specialties. Only Boston, Los Angeles, and New York had more than one Honor Roll hospital. Several states have no hospital with a national ranking in any specialty.
There's a lesson there.
A few days ago Clayton Christensen, the Harvard-based guru of "disruptive innovation," told Forbes that the U.S. health industry is "sick and getting sicker." He offered several suggestions for what he thinks need to change, but I want to pick one in particular, his emphasis on cutting administrative waste.
It is not unusual to cite administrative waste as a problem in our health care system, but Christensen comes at it from a different angle. As he said:
An increasing proportion of [health care] cost is spent on administrative and overhead activities that are not productive in any way. They exist because we assume every hospital should be able to do everything for everybody. But that’s not possible if we want quality and efficiency. Overhead creep is the result.
Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of The Cleveland Clinic, gets it as well (or at least, says the right things). As he recently said at the Aspen Ideas Festival: "What we need to understand is that not all hospitals can be all things to all people."
Cosgrove noted The Cleveland Clinic's expertise in cardiothoracic surgery, done on a scale that he believes results in care that is cost-effective and of high quality. They draw patients for these services not just from their metro area, their region, or even just the U.S., but also internationally. He wants to see a future where we get patients to the right physicians, rather than trying to have expertise available everywhere.
Given the solid data on the importance of volume/experience, then, why are each of my local hospitals trying to make themselves the leader in, say, open heart surgery? Or in cancer, neurology, or sports medicine for that matter?
Somehow it is hard for me to believe they've got my interests -- the patient's interests -- as their top priority.
Becker's Hospital Review recently hosted an Executive Roundtable on affiliation, and I was struck by a comment one of the hospital CEOs made:
There are too many tertiary facilities' values are not aligned with rural hospitals' values: Their goal is to pull patients out of smaller communities, which is not what smaller communities are looking for in an affiliation. Keeping patients close to home is what's important.
Wouldn't you like to think that doing what is best for the patient is what's important?
The point is, most of us don't live in places where we should be expecting that we're going to get the best care for every condition locally. Nor should we expect that even the "best" hospital/health system for some conditions are best for other conditions as well. Who is treating you where for what matters.