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Cost and quality not at odds when it comes to congenital heart surgery, study finds

Now for some good and interesting news on the quality front: Research regarding congenital heart surgery presented a couple of days ago at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions found that the children’s hospitals that delivered the highest quality care also tended to have the lowest costs.

According to a news release from the University of Michigan Health System, “The researchers studied 30,670 patients ages 0-18 undergoing heart surgery across 27 different hospitals, using a unique dataset of merged clinical and cost information from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and Children’s Hospital Association.”

The cost of care varied widely across those hospitals, according to the release. It adds, “The lowest-cost hospitals had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the other hospitals. The low-cost hospitals also had shorter lengths of stay after surgery and fewer post-operative complications.”

It’s unfortunate that some people, including some in healthcare, persist in the belief that raising quality and lowering cost are mutually exclusive goals – that improving outcomes has to mean biting the bullet financially. In many cases, streamlining processes and creating efficiencies ends up benefiting everyone.

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in the study, “the low-cost hospitals tended to be larger volume centers, who were able to achieve these outcomes despite treating a more high-risk patient population,” according to the release.

It might simply be that places that perform a certain procedure a lot tend to get good at it, and tend to establish standard practices that keep things running smoothly.

In any case, it’s always a positive in my book to see evidence-based support for the notion that high quality doesn’t have to mean high cost. As the presentation’s abstract states, “These results suggest that initiatives aiming to improve outcomes, whether through quality improvement or regionalizing care, may also have the potential to lower costs.”