Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care: Regional Disparity in Medicare Spending - Interactives - Quality/Equality newsroom - Quality/Equality - RWJF

Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care: Regional Disparity in Medicare Spending - Interactives - Quality/Equality newsroom - Quality/Equality - RWJF

The above link takes youto the interactive map that is kind of cool to look at and comare a few regions to see where yours falls.

The actual NEJM article is here. And here is the substantive part of the article (for me, anyway):

What's going on? It is highly unlikely that these differences in growth could be explained by differences in health. Marked regional differences in spending remain after careful adjustment for health, and there is no evidence that health is decaying more rapidly in Miami than in Salem.

The variations allow us to rule out two overly simplistic explanations for spending growth. First, "technology" is clearly an insufficient explanation: residents of all U.S. regions have access to the same technology, and it is implausible that physicians in the regions with slower spending growth are consciously denying their patients needed care. Indeed, evidence suggests that the quality of care and health outcomes are better in lower-spending regions and that there have been no greater gains in survival in regions with greater spending growth.1 Second, it is difficult to blame regional differences entirely on the current payment system, since all our evidence on regional growth comes from populations in the fee-for-service system. Other research has emphasized the role of managed care in moderating the growth of costs,2 but this story cannot explain the rapid growth in Miami, where roughly half of Medicare enrollees are covered by Medicare Advantage plans.

The causes must therefore lie in how physicians and others respond to the vailability of technology, capital, and other resources in the context of the fee-for-service payment system. A recent study by researchers in our group provides further insight.3 Using clinical vignettes to present standardized patient care scenarios to physicians throughout the country, the researchers found that physicians in high- and low-spending regions were about equally likely to recommend specific clinical
interventions when the supporting evidence was strong. Those in higher-spending
regions, however, were much more likely than those in lower-spending regions to
recommend discretionary services, such as referral to a subspecialist for typical gastroesophageal reflux or stable angina or, in another vignette, hospital admission for an 85-year-old patient with an exacerbation of end-stage congestive heart failure. And they were three times as likely to admit the latter patient directly to an intensive care unit and 30% less likely to discuss palliative care with the patient and family. Differences in the propensity to intervene in such gray areas of decision making were highly correlated with regional differences in per capita spending.

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