NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 9, 2007

At the University of California, San Francisco (U.C.S.F.) Medical Center -- one of the top medical institutions in the world -- heart attack patients often wait 3 hours on average to have their arteries unblocked, an hour longer than is recommended, says the New York Times.

In response, the hospital has made reforms to its procedures, and immediately cut waiting time to 90 minutes.  But in the longer term, changes have produced mixed results:

  • In 2005-6, about 67 percent of patients across the country had their arteries unblocked within two hours, up from 62 percent a couple of years earlier.
  • Since its initial burst of progress, U.C.S.F. hasn't gotten any faster at opening arteries; in 2005-6, 77 percent of heart attack patients there received treatment in less than two hours.

Despite the mixed results, the changes at U.C.S.F. may point a way to improve health care that avoids many of the thorniest political debates: regulators should force hospitals to report more information, says the Times.

Most of the heart attack patients at the hospital had health insurance, but they were still getting substandard care.  The same is true today about diabetes and hypertension.  Only about a third of people with those conditions receive the care that's needed to manage their case, says the Times.  Gaps in insurance may be the most publicized problem with the medical system, but it's not the only one.

Source: David Leonhardt, "The Data Tell a Different Story on Heart Patients," New York Times, March 7, 2007.

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