Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Which Frogs A-Leaping?

Reported so far mainly in medical news outlets, e.g., in WebMD health news, was a survey from the Leapfrog Group naming the US best hospitals. There has also been some local coverage in areas in which some of the named hospitals are based, e.g., here in the Star-Telegram.

The Leapfrog Group proclaims itself to be "a voluntary program aimed at mobilizing employer purchasing power to alert America’s health industry that big leaps in health care safety, quality and customer value will be recognized and rewarded." It is usually described as a group of large employers out to improve health care.

Is that description accurate? Who are its members.? The most recent list is here.

On it are some well known large companies, such as Boeing and IBM. But what is most striking about its membership is the prevalence of health care corporations. A full 14 of 49 members (28.6%) are health care corporations. These include pharmaceutical companies, e.g.,
  • Boehringer Ingelheim,
  • Eli Lilly and
  • Sanofi-Aventis.

These also include health care insurers and managed care organizations, e.g.,

  • Aetna Inc,
  • Blue Shield of California,
  • HCA,
  • UnitedHealth, and
  • Wellpoint.

These include hospitals and hospital networks, e.g.,

  • Greenville Hospital System, and
  • Heartland Surgical Specialty Hospital.

And these include other health care companies, e.g.

The members also include companies who, while not being purely in health care, have significant health care businesses, such as General Electric.

One would expect that companies who make money by providing health care goods and services may have different ideas about health care costs and quality than companies who do not do any health care related business.

So it seems that it is the truth that the Leapfrog Group is an organization of employers, it is not the whole relevant truth. In fact, it appears that the Group includes significant representation of companies who have vested interests in health care being done in certain ways. Thus, its ideas about how to improve quality and lower costs may have been influenced by the vested interests of its members, which may not represent just the interests of employers who provide health insurance to their employees. At least, the organization should make clear that it includes "employers" who also sell drugs, sell health insurance, manage care, and market health care information.

This seems like another example, in a somewhat different dimension, of conflicts of interest in health care, and of the failure of such conflicts to be clearly disclosed. This also seems like another demonstration that things are rarely what they seem in the complex and not always honest world of health care, particularly in the US.

In my humble opinion, full disclosure of all relevant conflicts in all dimensions, and consideration of whether certain kinds of conflicts should be not merely disclosed, but reduced or eliminated, might go a long way to improving our problems with health care costs, quality, and access.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

Note, see our previous post here about a previous version of Leapfrog Group membership.

ADDENDUM (19 September, 2007) - On the Running a Hospital Blog, Paul Levy posted a bit more positively about Leapfrog, although he finished somewhat ambiguously by wondering whether the group has "lost importance" by hopping "over their own approach."

The WSJ Health Blog provided more detail about the LeapFrog hospital quality report here.

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