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Expensive Health Care Isn't Always Best

Aug. 31, 2012 -- When it comes to health care, higher costs don’t always mean better care. That’s according to a report published this week by Consumer Reports.

Independent investigators compared quality and cost for 18 primary care groups in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. They found that one of the groups with the lowest costs rated highest for quality of care.

The analysis shows that the old saying "You get what you pay for" doesn’t always apply to health care, says John Santa, MD, who directs the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

“There were high-quality groups with lower costs and lower-quality groups with high costs,” Santa says.

Health Care Quality Not Determined by Cost

The analysis by the nonprofit HMO HealthPartners’ network looked at quality of care and patient satisfaction. It also looked at the affordability of medical tests and drugs, and the cost of care for short-term and long-term illnesses. 

The percentage of patients reaching blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes goals were among the 88 measures of quality of care. 

Among the key factors involved in delivering quality care at a reasonable cost: 

  • Taking a team approach to health care delivery that includes nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants instead of relying primarily on the doctor
  • Keeping up with the emerging science and having the ability to quickly adopt new research and guidelines
  • Keeping the focus on the patient


Small Minnesota Group Delivers

The report ranked the doctor-owned practice Northwest Family Physicians highest in quality of care and value of the 18 groups in the analysis.

Northwest administrator Mark Pottinger says the group set a goal of becoming a nationally recognized leader in delivering high-quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Pottinger says this was done by adopting the strategies outlined by Santa, including following a team approach to health care delivery. He says this gives patients greater access to health care providers, even though they may see their primary care doctor less often.

The group also has a team in place to review the latest research and relay the information to health providers in all three of its locations. There are also financial incentives for meeting goals that includes all employees instead of just doctors.

Santa points out that the U.S. health care system outspends the rest of the world, but has worse outcomes than many other industrialized nations.

He says the overuse of expensive medical tests and invasive treatments is a big part of the problem.

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