Public vs private: similar safety outcomes for heart procedures

Wednesday, 18 December, 2019

Public vs private: similar safety outcomes for heart procedures

Public and private hospitals have similar safety outcomes for pacemaker and defibrillator implant surgeries, according to a comparative study undertaken by South Australian researchers. Analysing data for all private and public hospitals in NSW and Queensland between 2010 and 2015, the study examined outcomes such as infection levels and mortality. The researchers from Flinders University and University of Adelaide have published their findings in the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' Internal Medicine Journal.

“There is growing community interest in the value of private health insurance and, to date, there are few head-to-head studies of the outcomes of care in public and private hospitals to compare the same service with adjustments for differences in patient characteristics,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Anand Ganesan, a Matthew Flinders Research Fellow and National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow.

“We believe our results are of community interest for patients to assess the value and benefit of private health insurance, as well as for policymakers who decide on resource allocations between the public and private healthcare systems.”

He stressed that further head-to-head studies are needed across all major medical procedures to provide patients and clinicians in both the public and private system with the most up-to-date safety information.

The population-level study of pacemaker complications found few key differences in overall major safety issues, although there were slightly higher infection rates in public hospitals. Slightly lower acute mortality rates were observed in public hospitals compared with the private hospital system. These findings could be associated with the greater number of older, frail patients relying on private health cover — and greater number of people in the public system — although further studies are needed to explain these differences.

Associate Professor Ganesan said more regular comparative assessments of public vs private hospital care quality are very important, particularly for Australian health consumers.

Australia’s hospitals account for more than 40% of healthcare spending, with a cumulative cost exceeding $60 billion per annum. Hospital care in Australia is delivered by a combination of 695 public (or 62,000 beds) and 630 private sector hospitals (33,100 beds).

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