Medical Device Daily National Editor

Some interesting healthcare sector news emanated from the state of Michigan last week, covering the gamut from consumer-driven healthcare to research in general to clinical trial results.

One of the items had to do with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association’s (MHA; Lansing) launch of a new web site allows consumers, for the first time, to compare prices of the most common procedures at each of the state’s 146 non-profit hospitals.

The web site — www.MIHospitalInform.org — was created, MHA said, in response to consumer and business demands for greater “transparency” in healthcare pricing.

The Detroit News hailed the establishment of the site as offering “unprecedented access to hospital pricing” as costs continue to rise and consumers pay higher premiums, co-payments and deductibles.

The hospital association said it hopes to make businesses and employees more aware of the cost and the quality of procedures that are largely covered by health insurance. It said it believes making such information available will make hospitals more efficient and hold them more accountable to consumers.

Roy Lamphier, VP of insurance services for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, told The News that the web site is “a step in the right direction” as people shoulder more of their healthcare costs and companies ask employees to be more accountable for their health. “Consumers need to know what they’re getting for the money,” he said.

Sofia Kosmetatos, who covers health issues for the newspaper, said that while the site allows consumers to compare prices, “it’s not likely to change where most people seek care — the closest hospital in an emergency, or to the one with which their doctor is affiliated for an elective procedure.” She also said the site is not expected to reduce the price of procedures, since prices are mostly negotiated with insurers.

The MHA-sponsored site lists average charges and average payments for the 50 most frequent inpatient and 50 most frequent outpatient medical procedures at each of Michigan’s 146 non-profit hospitals.

For example, the charge for hip or knee replacement varies from $28,500 at William Beaumont Medical Center to $33,949 at Henry Ford Hospital to $42,653 at Harper University Hospital, all Detroit-area institutions.

Henry Ford plans to post pricing information on its own web site in 1Q08. “The healthcare industry has the same obligation to the public to provide information on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” said CFO Jim Connelly.

The prices listed on the MHA site include only the cost of the procedures. They don’t include all charges that a patient may incur during a hospital stay, such as doctors’ fees.

In addition to average charges and prices, the MHA site shares information on how well Michigan hospitals served patients in four areas of care: heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical infection prevention. The quality measures compare a hospital’s performance to the average score nationally and for the state.

MIHospitalInform uses data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which the hospital association says are good indicators of pricing and quality and are representative of a large segment of patients in Michigan. The hospital association foresees adding more information in the future, such as data from other payers and physicians.

Another story out of Michigan last week reported that more than 25 heart researchers will leave the State University of New York Upstate Medical University (Syracuse) to join the University of Michigan Health System (Ann Arbor) and help form a new heart-rhythm center

In January, “at least” 25 scientists, physicians, students and research staff will begin arriving in Ann Arbor to start new jobs in the U-M Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. The university said the appointment of some faculty still requires approval from U-M’s Board of Regents.

The SUNY group is led by Jose Jalifé, MD, and Mario Delmar, MD, PhD, and U-M said their addition “will boost [our] already strong basic research efforts on heart rhythm conditions, and work closely with U-M doctors to turn their research findings into better care for patients.”

The group represents a broad range of disciplines, from medicine and cellular biology to mathematics, genetics and engineering.

The group’s members will begin to move their laboratory equipment early next year into to space leased by U-M in Ann Arbor, which will become the first home of the newly established U-M Center for Arrhythmia Research.

Robert Kelch, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs and chief executive officer of the U-M Health System, said, “The fact that this entire team saw such benefit in moving to Michigan speaks volumes about our medical school’s research climate and the potential to turn research into new diagnostic and treatment options.”

Jalif said U-M “has one of the best clinical arrhythmia groups in the world, and the shared research ‘core’ facilities are unbelievable. We have the chance for great synergy and interactions, in a program that will go all the way from the molecule to the patient.”

In other U-M news, a new study by a team of university researchers suggests that there may be a way to give babies born with severe heart defects a better chance at living. The study results indicate it’s important to get such infants to the hospitals that are the most experienced at handling such cases.

The U-M researchers found that infants with specific complex heart defects are much less likely to die before leaving the hospital if they are treated at the centers that treat the largest numbers of these patients. This relationship between hospital volume and mortality has been seen in adult heart operations, but the new study suggests it holds true for infants as well. The study is published online in the journal Pediatric Cardiology.

“A generation ago, we were just happy when these patients lived, but that’s not good enough any more,” said lead author Jennifer Hirsch, MD, a U-M pediatric cardiac surgeon and member of the Michigan Congenital Heart Center. “Although mortality rates are much lower, there is still a significant variation between centers. This study indicates that it may be time to selectively regionalize these patients’ care, to give them the best chance at a good outcome.”

Hirsch and her colleagues based their study on data from the 2003 Kids’ Inpatient Database, a national database sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ; Washington) that includes information on children hospitalized in 36 states.

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