“December 22, 2003 Intelligence: Late Breaking Lab News”

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Two more not-for-profit hospitals received the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award last month. St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri and Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida become the second and third hospitals to receive this award for quality achievement. Last year, SSM Health, a 21-hospital health system in St. Louis, Missouri became the first healthcare organization to win the award in a newly-created category for healthcare. There were 19 healthcare organizations which applied for the Baldridge Award this year.

MEDTOX EARNS ISO

There’s another ISO-certified laboratory in the United States. MEDTOX Scientific, Inc., based in St. Paul, Minnesota announced that it had earned certification in ISO 9001-2000 at the end of Nov- ember. The company, which specializes in drugs of abuse testing, is actively introducing Six Sigma and Lean methods into its laboratory operations.

BUSY SURGEONS DETERMINED TO BE GOOD FOR PATIENTS

Last month the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that concludes that “patients can often improve their chances of survival substantially, even at high-volume hospitals, by selecting surgeons who perform the operations frequently.” Researchers studied a nationwide sample of 475,000 Medicare patients. Based on 1998 and 1999 data for eight cancer and cardiovascular procedures, it was concluded that even when in hospitals with high volumes of procedures, mortality rates vary greatly among surgeons. As an example, for patients of surgeons who performed 22 or fewer aortic valve replacements, the mortality rate averaged 10.2%. It averaged only 6.1% for surgeons who performed 42 or more such procedures annually.

ADD TO: Busy Surgeons

The lead researcher was John Birkmeyer, M.D., Chief of General Surgery at
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Birkmeyer is a paid consultant for the Leapfrog Group. This study may have implications for the pathology profession. It may encourage researchers to investigate whether pathology sub- specialists provide a higher level of expertise compared to pathology generalists, and, if true, whether that difference plays a significant role in patient care.

One sign of a possible slowing in the double-digit increase of annual healthcare costs comes from the Center for Studying Health System Change (CSHSC), a Washington-based policy research group. A study of the underlying costs that drive health insurance premiums, which include physician charges, hospital charges, and prescription drugs, rose by only 8.5% during the first six months of 2003. This is down from 10% in the final six months of 2002. CSHSC says that’s the biggest percentage point drop since the early 1990s and may signal lessening in the annual rate of increase for healthcare premiums.

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