Adverse factors cast gloomy diagnosis

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:25 pm

Adverse factors cast gloomy diagnosis

As the baby boom generation saunters off into retirement, the American population is aging and in need of more medical care. At the same time, federal, state and local governments are broke, and funding for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the costs of prescription drugs continue to skyrocket, and employers are passing along their rising health care insurance premiums to their workers at a time when unemployment is rising and wages are stagnating.
In the background, boutique hospitals are poised to cherry-pick the most lucrative medical procedures in southeastern Wisconsin, the number of uninsured patients continues to escalate and some health care organizations are building new facilities simply to grow their market share, rather than cutting costs.
To boot, a nursing shortage is reaching crisis proportions.
Mix all of these factors together, and you have "the perfect storm" for the health care industry, and no one seems to have shelter.
"In my 30-some years of experience in health care, I have frankly never seen so many of these converging forces coming together at the same time," said William Petasnick, president and chief executive officer of Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa.
Petasnick, who has been involved in national discussions on the need for a major overhaul of the American health care system, addressed the need for major reforms during an interview with Small Business Times health care correspondent Julie Sneider.
"You have aging demographics, the cost of technology, the under-funding of public programs and you have the economic downturn, which means the number of uninsured rises as people lose their jobs and their health care benefits," Petasnick said.
"All these things seem to be converging at one time. In the past, you might have dealt with one or some of these, but now there is no longer any stability or predictability," he said. "All these things coming together at one time is contributing to the feeling on the part of a number of us that are involved on the national scene looking at health care that this system is such a patchwork quilt that is coming unraveled."
"I agree with all of the negative impacts that Bill sees coming," said Ford Titus, president and chief executive officer of ProHealth Care, which operates Waukesha Memorial Hospital and Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital.
Petasnick, Ford and a handful of others in southeastern Wisconsin’s health care industry are starting to do more than just scratch their heads and say the sky is falling.
Froedtert, for instance, is embarking on a new six sigma program to reduce its costs and its medical errors. Petasnick wants Froedtert to be a catalyst for change.
The one universal refrain among health care officials is that a greater degree of consumerism needs to be injected into the American system.
That’s ironic, since the hospital industry itself has failed to agree to any universal measures for evaluating the quality or the costs of medical care. And when data is compiled and presented, many hospital officials cringe and discredit the information, especially if it casts their hospital systems in an unfavorable light.
Yet, how can consumers react if the hospitals won’t present their data for apples-and-oranges comparisons?
The development of such data will be critical for greater consumerism in health care, according to Titus.
Titus, the past president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, is rocking the boat among his peers by insisting that the hospitals in the state agree to a universal system of measuring quality and costs of care.
On its Web site (, ProHealth posts comparative data compiled the Wisconsin Bureau of Health Information, showing the retail prices charged by southeastern Wisconsin hospitals for specific medical procedures. The data does not account for the prices charged to specific insurance companies, but it at least is a starting point for comparisons to introduce more consumerism into the health care industry, Titus said.
"What I really decry is (hospital) systems make up their own metrics and advertise them," Titus said. "I’m calling for a mandatory reporting system. We need uniform cost and price reporting, and uniform quality reporting, in order to be able to compare health providers."

Aug. 8, 2003 Small Business Times

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