In a prior post, I discussed the legislative challenges faced by physician-owned specialty hospitals during the past decade.  One powerful weapon specialty hospitals have in the fight against industry adversaries are research findings showing that specialized surgical care results in better outcomes and fewer serious post-surgical complications such as blood clots, infections and heart problems.

One such study was released online in the British Medical Journal on February 11th.  As reported by Becky Soglin of The University of Iowa Health Care Media Relations, the findings were based on data for nearly 1.3 million Medicare patients who received hip or knee replacement surgeries between 2001 and 2005 at 3,818 hospitals in the United States. The results grouped hospitals into five levels of specialization.  The most specialized hospitals had fewer complications or deaths within the first 90 days after a surgery than less specialized hospitals did.  For one example as cited by Ms. Soglin, the rate of death for patients who had hip and knee replacements was twice as high at the least specialized hospitals compared to patients treated at the most specialized hospital — 1.4% compared to 0.7% within the first 90 days after surgery. 

Of course both sides of the specialty hospital debate cite statistics relating to the impact of specialty hospitals on the U.S. healthcare system at large.  For specialty hospitals, continued focus on impressive clinical outcomes is critical.  Additionally, specialty hospitals have become popular among patients for their high quality facilities and highly focused care.

Industry adversaries include political powerhouses like the American Hospital Association, which claim that specialty hospitals waste government funded healthcare dollars by permitting physicians to refer to entities in which they own interests and cherry-pick patients with the most lucrative insurance coverage thereby overburdening general acute hospitals with excessive indigent populations.

The future of national healthcare reform efforts is unclear.  Even if specialty hospitals again escape restriction in a consolidated healthcare reform bill,  it is certain that specialty hospitals will not be forgotten by their opponents.