Your Heart Attack Bill: $3,300 in Arkansas, $92,000 in California

Well, this is a shocking story from CNN: hospitals across the nation — even those located just miles apart — charge wildly different rates for the same medical procedure:

Encompassing more than 163,000 separate records, the data set will be a gold mine for researchers analyzing the often inscrutable field of health care pricing. Through standardized diagnostic codes, it allows comparisons for similar services provided by different hospitals.

For example, the average bill for treatment for a heart attack without major complications at a hospital in Danville, Ark., was $3,334. Across the country in Modesto, Calif., the same diagnosis incurred an average bill of $92,057.

The New York Times has an excellent interactive where you can compare how much your hospital charges for various procedures versus the national average.

Closer to where I live, Gwinnett Medical Center and DeKalb Medical Center have average costs for all procedures lower than the national average; on the other hand, the Atlanta Medical Center has costs higher than national average for virtually all procedures.

On Medical Errors in Hospitals

This is a terrifying read from Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in The Wall Street Journal. Medical errors kill enough people to fill four jumbo jets a week:

I encountered the disturbing closed-door culture of American medicine on my very first day as a student at one of Harvard Medical School’s prestigious affiliated teaching hospitals. Wearing a new white medical coat that was still creased from its packaging, I walked the halls marveling at the portraits of doctors past and present. On rounds that day, members of my resident team repeatedly referred to one well-known surgeon as “Dr. Hodad.” I hadn’t heard of a surgeon by that name. Finally, I inquired. “Hodad,” it turned out, was a nickname. A fellow student whispered: “It stands for Hands of Death and Destruction.”

He then offers five suggestions for improvements, including the use of video recording of surgeries:

Cameras are already being used in health care, but usually no video is made. Reviewing tapes of cardiac catheterizations, arthroscopic surgery and other procedures could be used for peer-based quality improvement. Video would also serve as a more substantive record for future doctors. The notes in a patient’s chart are often short, and they can’t capture a procedure the way a video can.