Posted by John Ager on 30 July 2015.
Much of what my partner and I write about tends to be pretty negative, as most reporting about health care seems to be these days. Much of that is because we write primarily about issues in the world of medical malpractice and, frankly, not much good happens in that world. However, we think it is important to shine a light on those issues so folks can make better informed decisions about to protect themselves and effect positive change in the system So, it was terrific to see some good news about health care in which the drive reduce medical negligence likely played at least a small role.
The Journal of the American Medical Association just published a study which found that for all Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older, between 1999 and 2013, the number of deaths and hospitalizations fell, along with the cost of care, even while overall expenditures increased. You can review an abstract of the study here. The study looked at both fee-for service patients (71%) and those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans (29%) and found similar declines for both populations. (You can read more about how we believe even greater improvements can be reached by moving away from fee-for-service compensation here.)
The results of the study are absolutely jaw-dropping.
1) Death rates declined from 5.3% to 4.45%
2) Hospitalizations per 100,000 patients dropped from 35,274 to 26,930
3) Expenditures per beneficiary were reduced from $3,290 to $2,801
4) Hospitalizations in last 6 months of life per 100 deaths went from 131 to 103
5) Expenditures per death decreased from $15,312 to $13,388
No, really – WOW! So what’s going on. Well, unfortunately the study only tells the what, not the why. But, there are good reasons to suspect several factors are at play. No doubt, measures which have been taken improve the quality of health care and reduce incidents of medical malpractice have contributed to these improvements. Other factors probably include better health habits like diet and exercise, improvements in medications and other health care advances, and better management of chronic health conditions. Reduced smoking rates also almost certainly play a role. And, while obesity unfortunately is on the rise, the effects of that increase appear to be more than offset by better health and better health care.
So maybe things are looking up. At least they appear to be trending up and while we may not be able to make direct cause and effect correlations just yet, good news is good news. I’ll take it!