The Green Bay miracle

The data is not the miracle. The miracle lies in what people do which results in good data.

President Obama is in Green Bay today, touting what some media reports will doubtless call "the Green Bay miracle."

(The picture is from Barfblog, a blog on food safety from Kansas State University.)

The miracle is based on this chart from Dartmouth, which I previously touted at ZDNet Healthcare, showing wide regional variations in the cost of delivering Medicare coverage, not all of which can be explained by differences in the cost of living.

Green Bay, for instance, had Medicare reimbursements averaging $6,810 per patient in 2006 while nearby Wausau spent $8,127 per patient.

For the last two years of life, the President will say, the care of Green Bay residents cost less than half what patients in Los Angeles and Miami cost. During that time Green Bay people spent one-third less time in the hospital, and half the time in intensive care, as people in higher-cost areas.

The purpose of the push for health IT is to get this data to front-line doctors nationwide at the point of care. The complex term for the result is comparative effectiveness.

The simpler term for it is best practices.

More doctors, more tests, more drugs and more therapies does not necessarily result in better outcomes or happier customers, as Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has said many times. 

More is not always better. Sometimes it is just more. Getting the balance right, getting enough care so you have optimal outcomes at minimal cost, is a constantly-shifting goal, which is why good data is so important.

But the data is not the miracle. The miracle lies in what people do which results in good data.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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