Despite negative reputation, doc-owned hospitals don't cherry-pick the healthiest patients

Physician-owned hospitals have a reputation for hijacking the lion's share of desirable patients at the expense of other providers--but it is largely undeserved, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.

Within the healthcare sector, physician-owned hospitals are widely perceived as drawing the most profitable patients away from other hospitals, leaving those providers with sicker, lower-income patients. 

But the research, which examined 2,186 acute care hospitals, including 219 physician-owned hospitals, in the United States, shows otherwise. The study finds that although patients at doctor-owned hospitals are slightly healthier overall, there is no significant difference between them and other hospitals in any other criterion.

Moreover, in some cases physician-owned facilities may be the better option for healthier patients, since they tend to have less space and fewer resources needed to care for high-risk or chronically ill patients.

"By and large, physician-owned hospitals have virtually identical proportions of Medicaid patients and racial minorities and perform very similar to other hospitals in terms of quality of care," lead author Daniel Blumenthal, M.D., a clinical fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Kaiser Health News.

Under the Affordable Care Act, construction of new doc-owned hospitals is banned, and existing ones cannot expand without losing their Medicare eligibility. But the study also calls the necessity of federal restrictions on the hospitals into question, Blumenthal wrote in the BMJ. Physician-owned hospitals and policymakers have made several recent attempts to loosen those restrictions. For example, a proposed rule in July would clarify the requirement that all such hospitals disclose their physician-owned status on public websites or in advertising, while legislation introduced earlier this year would temporarily relax ownership restrictions with hospitals that have high quality ratings.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the KHN article