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For-Profit Hospitals Have Higher Death Rates
Published on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 by Reuters
For-Profit Hospitals Have Higher Death Rates
by Alison McCook

NEW YORK - For-profit hospitals in the US show higher death rates among their patients than non-profit hospitals do, Canadian researchers report.

The increased rate of death in for-profit hospitals is only slight--2%--but lead author Dr. P. J. Devereaux of McMaster University in Ontario told Reuters Health that seemingly small number translates into a large number of patients.

The US consists of a mix of for-profit and non-profit hospitals. In Canada, however, 95% of hospitals are non-profit, and the country is currently debating whether to transition to more for-profit facilities.

If Canada switched to a for-profit hospital system, that potential increase in the death rate of 2% would translate to 2,200 more annual deaths, Devereaux said--the number of Canadians who die from motor vehicle accidents and colon cancer each year.

"Clearly, those are things that no one would knowingly introduce into society," he said. The findings are published in the May 28th issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Devereaux and his team analyzed 15 studies that compared 26,000 private for-profit and private non-profit hospitals in the US, which collectively treated 38 million patients between 1982 and 1995.

Privately owned hospitals are those that are not funded by tax dollars channeled through the government. Both non-profit and for-profit facilities can be supported by premiums from insurance companies, but for-profit hospitals are ultimately owned by shareholders and investors. Private non-profit hospitals are owned by religious organizations, communities, hospital boards or others.

While the study could not determine why there was a difference in death rates depending on the hospital type, Devereaux believes for-profit hospitals may cut some corners in order to generate more revenue.

For example, Devereaux and his team found that for-profit hospitals employ fewer highly skilled healthcare workers than non-profit hospitals.

Devereaux stressed that the increased death rate of 2% in for-profit hospitals is simply an average, and does not necessarily mean that every for-profit facility has an exactly 2% higher risk of death among its patients.

However, these results indicate that those who attend non-profit hospitals may have a slightly lower chance of dying than others, Devereaux added.

"What people ultimately choose to do with that (information) is their decision," he said.

As a researcher, Devereaux said he hopes policymakers in Canada will simply use his findings to make an informed decision on whether to introduce more for-profit hospitals in Canada. However, as an individual, he said he hopes the country does not make that transition.

SOURCE: Canadian Medical Association Journal 2002 May 28.

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited


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