The Growing Concern: Patient Risks on the Rise in Private Equity-Owned Hospitals

In recent years, there’s been a significant shift in the healthcare industry as more hospitals and healthcare facilities are moving to private equity ownership. The concept of private equity ownership is not new to the healthcare industry as many physicians have and continue to own private practices. However, private equity ownership now involves more private parties, such as large investment firms, which typically manage funds for well-known institutions and wealthy individuals. This change impacts how hospitals are managed, with private equity firms taking steps like taking out loans, selling assets, or flipping facilities to quickly repay investors and boost profits. As this trend grows, concerns arise about whether this ownership model prioritizes patient care or if cutting costs leads to a decline in quality.

A study published in JAMA by Harvard Medical School on December 26th, 2023, sheds light on this issue. It revealed a 25% increase in hospital-acquired conditions, including a 27% rise in falls, a 38% increase in central line infections, and a doubled rate of surgical site infections in private equity-owned hospitals. These concerns persist despite fewer central lines being used and a reduction in surgical procedures. The study, based on the analysis of 5 million hospitalizations through Medicare claims, underscores the importance of assessing the impact on patient safety and well-being while in the care of private equity-owned healthcare hospitals. One of the physicians contributing to the research, Sneha Kannan, who serves as the Physician in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at Massachusetts General Hospital, states, “Hospital success is measured not only in dollars or the number of patients who pass through the doors, but also in lives saved, complication rates, patient satisfaction, and a number of other quality and safety metrics. We need to make sure we fully understand the costs and benefits of this prominent new force in health care.”

A critical aspect for the healthcare industry to consider is the cost-cutting measures implemented in private equity-owned healthcare institutions. These measures involve staffing changes, such as staff cuts and replacing higher-paid workers with lower-paid ones, reduced training, and shortages of essential resources. Some argue that private equity’s involvement may have contributed to shortages in critical medical equipment during the pandemic. While these measures aim to improve financial outcomes, there’s a potential risk of increased medical errors, longer wait times, and an overall decline in the quality of care provided. As concerns over patient risks in private equity-owned healthcare institutions rise, it becomes crucial to balance financial viability with the well-being of patients and healthcare professionals.

Citations:

Kannan S, Bruch JD, Song Z. Changes in Hospital Adverse Events and Patient Outcomes Associated With Private Equity Acquisition. JAMA. 2023;330(24):2365–2375. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.23147

Miller, Jake. “What Happens When Private Equity Takes over a Hospital.” Harvard Medical School, 26 Dec. 2023, hms.harvard.edu/news/what-happens-when-private-equity-takes-over-hospital.

“Private Equity’s Role in Health Care.” Commonwealth Fund, 17 Nov. 2023, www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/explainer/2023/nov/private-equity-role-health-care.

Study Shows Increased Patient Risks at Private Equity-Owned … – Axios, www.axios.com/2024/01/04/private-equity-hospital-patient-risk. Accessed 9 Jan. 2024

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