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Teaching-hospital patients have lower mortality rates but are their high prices worth it?

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Austin Frakst, a health economist at Harvard, analyzes a study that appeared in JAMA that suggests that mortality rates are a bit lower at teaching hospitals than at non-teaching hospitals, where the cost of services are lower.

It found that  mortality rates are lower at teaching hospitals for 11 of 15 common medical conditions experienced by Medicare patients and five of six major surgical conditions. The more medical students per bed, the lower a hospital’s mortality rate, the study found.

But, Mr. Frakst cautioned in a New York Times piece, the  study did not assess the overall cost of the benefits in lower mortality that teaching hospitals deliver.

“The typical teaching hospital is at least 30 percent more expensive,” Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard healthcare economist,  told Mr. Frakst. “Is 1 percent fewer deaths worth that price?”

After all, Mr. Frakst commented: “It’s a question few like to ask, but spending more on hospital care means less for other things we value — and that are known to improve health and welfare, too — like education and nutrition programs.” Those things have an effect on mortality rates, too.

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