I was teaching the Virginia Mason VMMC case in Tech & Operations Management yesterday, and made a loose comment about busy urban hospitals being better than suburban ones. For example in the UC San Diego system, when someone is my family is really sick I try to take them to the downtown (dilapidated, overcrowded) UCSD hospital before I’d go to the one near campus (hotel-like, luxurious).
A student asked “why”, forcing me to do a little research. Here is my answer to her.
P asks: why are urban hospitals better? My answer: It’s a good question at 2 levels.
1) Is it true? How do we know?
2) If it’s true, why is it true?
The answer to Q1 is “yes, on average.” But we now have data on individual hospital quality of care for various metrics, so I recommend consulting that for personal use. More precisely, on average the following characteristics seem to be associated with quality of results in hospitals:
- Teaching hospital (affiliated with a medical school and teaching its students)
- Large hospital
- Busy hospital
All 3 of these are associated with “urban” versus rural. (see note at bottom). However, if patient satisfaction is the measure, some of these relationships reverse! Large busy and impersonal hospitals may be good for health, but not for comfort!
WHY? I don’t know of much research on this. But my understanding is that 1) it’s important that doctors and staff have seen lots of similar cases to your illness. This is more likely in large/busy hospitals. 2) Teaching hospitals and other so called “third level” hospitals get all the really difficult, obscure diseases, and more seriously ill patients. They therefore get more experience with them. After that we can speculate. For example does having to explain your actions to lots of 20-something students keep the age 50+ faculty doctors on their toes, trying to outsmart the students? (See the TV show: House, and probably others.)
Further speculation: uptake of new disease-management concepts such as safety protocols and Electronic Health Records is bigger in large systems. To the extent these are useful for patients, it will also improve large hospitals versus small ones.
For blog readers, if you have other or better information on this, please make a comment. Thanks!
NOTE: I did a scholar.google.com search on: urban hospital “quality of care” teaching large small ; for last 5 years, and found a variety of articles.
Main outcome measures: Differences between urban acute care hospitals and rural critical access hospitals on quality care indicators related to acute myocardial infarction, heart failure and pneumonia.
Results: For 8 of the 12 hospital quality indicators the differences between urban acute care and rural critical access hospitals were statistically significant (P = 0.01). In seven instances these differences favored urban hospitals. One indicator related to pneumonia favored rural hospitals (2007 article)