A recent JAMA study got some nice media attention (like in this NYT piece) when it concluded that hospitals profit from surgical errors:
- Hospitals make money from their own mistakes because insurers pay them for the longer stays and extra care that patients need to treat surgical complications that could have been prevented, a new study finds.
- Changing the payment system, to stop rewarding poor care, may help to bring down surgical complication rates, the researchers say. If the system does not change, hospitals have little incentive to improve: in fact, some will wind up losing money if they take better care of patients.
It’s obvious, right? I mean doctors and hospitals are colluding to do poor care to make more money. C’mon, that accusation is such bullshit. I love how the authors go right into recommending changing the payment system for “quality” care. Once again, an unproven concept.
Then this article came out. It seems the JAMA study assumed that the beds would go empty if the patients were discharged “on time” and there were no complications. But alas, almost all hospitals are filled at almost all times.
- This is what the authors assumed (and mentioned as a limitation): “We did not estimate the effect of 3 potential factors that could affect the hospital economics of surgical complications. First, the shorter lengths of stay of procedures without complications could benefit the small percentage of hospitals operating at full capacity because they might be able to admit additional patients with favorable insurance who were “crowded out.”“
- What this means is that they did not include any profits that might be generated by an empty bed in a hospital. In the study, around 5% of patients developed a complication and stayed an excess of 11 days (at the median) – the mean would be higher.
The truth of the matter is that constantly moving fresh and new patients in and out of the hospital is much more profitable then some conspiracy to cause errors and keep the same ones there longer. This study was garbage and a political play by a biased group of researchers.