Viewpoint: Doctor-Owned Specialty Hospitals is Good Medicine

Even before the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) lifted the moratorium in August 2006 to allow more specialty hospitals to operate, the battle lines were drawn over this controversial and complicated health care issue. Its advocates and critics include attorneys, politicians, special interest groups, doctors, and health care organizations. Despite this step forward by the CMS, speculation about how doctor-owned specialty hospitals operate, and if they should even be in business, rages on.

The idea of doctor-owned hospitals is not new. In fact, many of the first hospitals operated this way. Doctor-owned specialty hospital advocates could state that history is simply repeating itself. On the other hand, critics might cite Clarence Darrow saying, "History repeats itself. That's one of the things wrong with history." Whether you agree with Mr. Darrow or not, what everyone agrees on is that quality patient care is paramount.

Patients are involved too. Health care trends have influenced patient attitudes about what they should expect. The explosive growth of medical websites and publications written for laypeople has provided patients vast resource materials. Patients have come to expect their health care experience to be a partnership and not a solo venture. Modern day patients want to be more involved in decisions about their health care and demand and expect the highest quality of care. Specialty hospitals are meeting and exceeding patient expectations while helping to repair a crippled health care system.

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Doctors Strive to Overcome Health Care Hurdles

The practice of medicine as a whole is facing a crisis: provide high quality patient care and maintain profitability. Forced to deal with third-party payors and related reimbursement issues, administrative hurdles continue to hurt doctors and full-service hospitals nationwide. By means of the specialty hospital model, doctors realized a way to continue to provide quality care and preserve profitability despite an increasingly competitive and complicated market. Thus, the original idea of doctor-owned hospitals gained momentum, although on a small-scale compared with the number of full-service traditional hospitals.

Benefits Patient Care

Specialty hospitals offer doctors an alternative with benefits that extend directly to patient care. A specialty hospital affords doctors more choices to build and maintain a profitable practice. Profitability fosters improved patient services on many levels that include highly trained specialists and advanced equipment. Doctors become empowered and gain control over aspects of patient care and business that they may not previously have had in a full-service traditional hospital setting. For example, more control over a surgical schedule improves time management and efficiency. Administrative red tape is eliminated in decision making and equipment acquisition.

Some specialty hospitals perform better than full-service hospitals. This was brought out by Dr. Mark McClellan, former CMS Administrator in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee. Dr. McClellan stated, "Last year, CMS completed a study on referral patterns and quality in doctor-owned specialty hospitals, finding that certain specialty hospitals delivered high quality care that was as good as or better than their competitor hospitals."(1)

Communities Benefit

Advocates know that doctor-owned specialty hospitals, including not-for-profit specialty hospitals, provide a valuable service and benefit communities. Many different types of specialty hospitals have existed for decades reflecting the medical trend of the period, such as pediatric and rehabilitative centers.

Today's trend is high quality spine care. Like its pediatric and rehab predecessors, the development of spine centers as a type of doctor-owned specialty hospital is based on rapidly emerging new technologies such as devices, biomaterials, and advanced operative techniques. Some of these centers have opened in smaller communities where access to a full-service traditional hospital is difficult.

Similar to full-service traditional hospitals, fully staffed spine centers provide many patient services such as imaging and diagnostic studies, interventional pain management, rehabilitation and physical therapy, and surgery. But the differences are remarkable. For example, spine centers offer all services under one roof. Spine patients receive comprehensive management of their spinal disorder without having to travel to multiple sites. Procedures, such as diagnostic or surgical, can be scheduled sooner than at a full-service hospital because spine centers do business differently and run more efficiently. Operating and treatment rooms are outfitted with advanced equipment sometimes not found in full-service traditional hospitals. Administrative, nursing and other medical staff is well-trained to provide personal and special care to each spine patient.

Spine specialist doctors and their patients embrace the concept of spine centers because these facilities offer the most advanced medical treatment and a focused level of quality patient care.

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