Sunday, September 7, 2008

Build It And They Will Come....? The Battle For Patients

I'm not referring to a new retail store or strip mall. Rather a proposed for profit, physician owned, $100 million hospital in Northern Summit County is creating alot of infighting between local hospitals and doctors there. Apparently, over 85 local physicians have agreed to invest in a swanky, 100 bed hospital which will feature "upscale services" such as a spa, a gourmet restaurant, and walking trails, of all things.

The proposed benefits? "Growing the market for Akron," according to Dr. Robert Kent, president of the group lobbying for the project. What's more, it is projected to generate revenues of $150-200 million per year, and spawn another $138 million in related economic development.

The huge economic numbers being thrown around sound like something Wal Mart officials say when opening another new store. But we're talking about patient care here, not big box retailers.

Not so fast, say local hospitals like Akron General and Cuyahoga Falls General. Their occupancy rates range from 16 to less than 50%, and they are claiming that "greedy doctors" are pushing this project as a money making venture at the expense of the vitality of existing hospitals.

This whole debate underscores how health care delivery is becoming just as much a business model as it is the delivery of quality care. On the one hand, if there is truly a need for such a hospital, and doctors who invest in it can deliver good care and make handsome profits doing it, that is the nature of our free market system. But it also shows how the influence of money affects our health care delivery system. If Akron and Cuyahoga Falls General are correct, this new hospital will drive well paying patients away from existing hospitals, and possibly create a two tiered system of health care delivery for the haves and the have nots.

So who's right about this? I'm not sure, but I look at it from a different perspective. Just a few years ago, doctors were threatening to leave Ohio, claiming that they were being held economic hostage due to too many lawsuits, and demanded (and received) limits on what negligently injured patients could recover in lawsuits. So when I read about a $100 million, apparently physician funded hospital, it really makes me wonder now about the hollowness of those claims.

More importantly, physician groups like The AMA and certain politicians have claimed for years that the primary way to reduce health care costs is to limit what patients can recover in malpractice lawsuits. These hospital wars prove that malpractice lawsuits or no malpractice lawsuits, there are MANY other factors that affect health care costs, and quality health care. Just remember that point, and this story in the next few weeks when certain politicians will (again) drag trial lawyers out of the basement and blame them (again) as the primary reason our health care costs are increasing.....

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