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The Closest Hospital May Not Be the Best

The most comprehensive study of health outcomes in hospitals to date reveals significant variations across the US—with results that break down preconceived notions of where to get the best care.

According to data from a pioneering study of more than 22 million hospital admissions—analyzing 24 specific health outcomes, or what happens to patients after admission—the differences in hospital performance were extreme. The results of this peer-reviewed study, conducted by BCG and partnering health care institutions and published in PLOS ONE, also revealed that these variations persisted across geographies and could not be explained by patient demographics, health upon admission, or a variety of other health-system factors.

Health and Wealth Are Not Guarantees of High Hospital Performance

Challenging common beliefs, the study found regions in the US with hospitals serving high-income, largely white populations that had poor health outcomes. Conversely, many regions with hospitals serving low-income, mostly minority populations had outstanding results. The variation in outcomes exists across the US, between states, and within states.

The results are telling. Patients in low-performing hospitals (the bottom 10%) are 3 times more likely to die and 13 times more likely to experience complications than those admitted to high-performing hospitals (the top 10%).

The variation in hospital outcomes is likely driven by factors inside the institutions themselves, such as specific care protocols, hospital culture, and the experience of clinical teams—information that is not publicly available. The focus of health care reform has to move beyond cost and include the transparency of this kind of data, encouraging an environment that promotes the sharing of best practices across the health care system.

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