• Reading list

    This is a long one, but I won’t be posting one next week (more on why later) so I felt I needed to give you plenty to keep you busy.

    Lower Mortality Rates At Cardiac Specialty Hospitals Traceable To Healthier Patients And To Doctors’ Performing More Procedures, by Liam O’Neill and Arthur J. Hartz (Health Affairs)

    Physician-owned cardiac specialty hospitals advertise that they have outstanding physicians and results. To test this assertion, we examined who gets referred to these hospitals, as well as whether different results occur when specialty physicians split their caseloads among specialty and general hospitals in the same markets. Using data on 210,135 patients who underwent percutaneous coronary interventions in Texas during 2004–07, we found that the risk-adjusted in-hospital mortality rate for patients treated at specialty hospitals was significantly below the rate for all hospitals in the state (0.68 percent versus 1.50 percent). However, the rate was significantly higher when physicians who owned cardiac specialty hospitals treated patients in general hospitals (2.27 percent versus 1.50 percent). In addition, several patient characteristics were associated with a lower likelihood of being admitted to a cardiac hospital for cardiac care, such as being African American or Hispanic and having Medicaid or no health insurance. After adjustment for patient severity and number of procedures performed, the overall outcomes for cardiologists who owned specialty hospitals were not significantly different from the “average outcomes” obtained at noncardiac hospitals. In contrast to previous studies, patient outcomes were found to be highly dependent on the type of hospital where the procedure was performed. To remove a potential source of bias and achieve a more balanced comparison, the quality statistics reported by physician-owned cardiac hospitals should be adjusted to incorporate the high rates of poor outcomes for the many procedures done by their cardiologists at nearby noncardiac hospitals.

    How Cancer Patients Value Hope And The Implications For Cost-Effectiveness Assessments Of High-Cost Cancer Therapies, by Darius N. Lakdawalla, John A. Romley, Yuri Sanchez, J. Ross Maclean, John R. Penrod and Tomas Philipson (Health Affairs)

    Assessments of the medical and economic value of therapies in diseases such as cancer traditionally focus on average or median gains in patients’ survival. This focus ignores the value that patients may place on a therapy with a wider “spread” of outcomes that offer the potential of a longer period of survival. We call such treatments “hopeful gambles” and contrast them with “safe bets” that offer similar average survival but less chance of a large gain. Real-world therapy options do not have these stylized forms, but they can differ in the spread of survival gains that patients face. We found that 77 percent of surveyed cancer patients with melanoma, breast cancer, or other kinds of solid tumors preferred hopeful gambles to safe bets. This suggests that current technology assessments, which often determine access to such cancer therapies, may be missing an important source of value to patients and should either incorporate hope into the value of therapies or set a higher threshold for an acceptable cost-effectiveness ratio in the end-of-life context.

    Appropriate And Inappropriate Imaging Rates For Prostate Cancer Go Hand In Hand By Region, As If Set By Thermostat, by Danil V. Makarov, Rani Desai, James B. Yu, Richa Sharma, Nitya Abraham, Peter C. Albertsen, Harlan M. Krumholz, David F. Penson and Cary P. Gross (Health Affairs)

    Policy makers interested in containing health care costs are targeting regional variation in utilization, including the use of advanced imaging. However, bluntly decreasing utilization among the highest-utilization regions may have negative consequences. In a cross-sectional study of prostate cancer patients from 2004 to 2005, we found that regions with lower rates of inappropriate imaging also had lower rates of appropriate imaging. Similarly, regions with higher overall imaging rates tended to have not only higher rates of inappropriate imaging, but also higher rates of appropriate imaging. In fact, men with high-risk prostate cancer were more likely to receive appropriate imaging if they resided in areas with higher rates of inappropriate imaging. This “thermostat model” of regional health care utilization suggests that poorly designed policies aimed at reducing inappropriate imaging could limit access to appropriate imaging for high-risk patients. Health care organizations need clearly defined quality metrics and supportive systems to encourage appropriate treatment for patients and to ensure that cost containment does not occur at the expense of quality.

    Urologists’ Self-Referral For Pathology Of Biopsy Specimens Linked To Increased Use And Lower Prostate Cancer Detection, by Jean M. Mitchell (Health Affairs)

    Federal law allows physicians in some circumstances to refer patients for additional services to a facility in which the physician has a financial interest. The practice of physician self-referral for imaging and pathology services has been criticized because it can lead to increased use and escalating health care expenditures, with little or no benefit to patients. This study examined Medicare claims for men in a set of geographically dispersed counties to determine how the “in-office ancillary services” exception affected the use of surgical pathology services and cancer detection rates associated with prostate biopsies. I found that self-referring urologists billed Medicare for 4.3 more specimens per prostate biopsy than the adjusted mean of 6 specimens per biopsy that non-self-referring urologists sent to independent pathology providers, a difference of almost 72 percent. Additionally, the regression-adjusted cancer detection rate in 2007 was twelve percentage points higher for men treated by urologists who did not self-refer. This suggests that financial incentives prompt self-referring urologists to perform prostate biopsies on men who are unlikely to have prostate cancer. These results support closing the loophole that permits self-referral to “in-office” pathology laboratories.

    Growth Of High-Cost Intensity-Modulated Radiotherapy For Prostate Cancer Raises Concerns About Overuse, by Bruce L. Jacobs, Yun Zhang, Ted A. Skolarus and Brent K. Hollenbeck (Health Affairs)

    To study the impact of new, expensive, and unproven therapies to treat prostate cancer, we investigated the dissemination of intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). IMRT is an innovative treatment for prostate cancer that delivers higher doses of radiation with improved precision compared to alternative radiotherapies. We observed rapid adoption of this new treatment among men diagnosed with prostate cancer from 2001 through 2007, despite uncertainty about its relative effectiveness. We compared patient and disease characteristics of those receiving IMRT and the previous radiation standard of care, three-dimensional conformal therapy; assessed intermediate-term outcomes; and examined potential factors associated with the increased use of IMRT. We found that in the early period of IMRT adoption (2001–03) men with high-risk disease were more likely to receive IMRT, whereas after IMRT’s initial dissemination (2004–07) men with low-risk disease had fairly similar likelihoods of receiving IMRT as men with high-risk disease. This raises concerns about overtreatment, as well as considerable health care costs, because treatment with IMRT costs $15,000–$20,000 more than other standard therapies. As health care delivery reforms gain traction, policy makers must balance the promotion of new, yet unproven, technology with the risk of overuse.

    Direct-To-Consumer Internet Promotion Of Robotic Prostatectomy Exhibits Varying Quality Of Information, by Joshua N. Mirkin, William T. Lowrance, Andrew H. Feifer, John P. Mulhall, James E. Eastham and Elena B. Elkin (Health Affairs)

    Robotic surgery to remove a cancerous prostate has become a popular treatment. Internet marketing of this surgery provides an intriguing case study of direct-to-consumer promotions of medical devices, which are more loosely regulated than pharmaceutical promotions. We investigated whether the claims made in online promotions of robotic prostatectomy were consistent with evidence from comparative effectiveness studies. After performing a search and cross-sectional analysis of websites that mentioned the procedure, we found that many sites claimed benefits that were unsupported by evidence and that 42 percent of the sites failed to mention risks. Most sites were published by hospitals and physicians, which the public may regard as more objective than pages published by manufacturers. Unbalanced information may inappropriately raise patients’ expectations. Increasing enforcement and regulation of online promotions may be beyond the capabilities of federal authorities. Thus, the most feasible solution may be for the government and medical societies to promote the production of balanced educational material.

    Prevention For College Students Who Suffer Alcohol-Induced Blackouts Could Deter High-Cost Emergency Department Visits, by Marlon P. Mundt and Larissa I. Zakletskaia (Health Affairs)

    Fifty percent of college students who drink report alcohol-induced blackouts, and alcohol abusers in general put a heavy burden on the medical care system. Using data drawn from a randomized, controlled alcohol intervention trial at five university sites, our study quantified the costs of visits to emergency departments by college students who experienced blackouts from drinking alcohol. Of 954 students in the study, 52 percent of males and 50 percent of females at the outset of the study had experienced an alcohol-induced blackout in the past year. Of 404 emergency department visits among the study participants over a two-year observation period, about one in eight were associated with blackout drinking. Injuries ranged from broken bones to head and brain injuries requiring computed tomography. We calculate that on a large university campus having more than 40,000 students, blackout-associated emergency department visit costs would range from $469,000 to $546,000 per year. We conclude that blackouts are a strong predictor of emergency department visits for college drinkers and that prevention efforts aimed at students with a history of blackouts might reduce injuries and emergency department costs.

    Controlling Health Care Spending — The Massachusetts Experiment, by Zirui Song and Bruce E. Landon (The New England Journal of Medicine)

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