Competition policy in five European countries

This working paper explores how policies affecting competition have been implemented and promoted in health systems in five countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal | Health Foundation

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  • In conventional markets, customers are attracted to particular suppliers by a more appealing combination of price and quality. But in health care, patients are usually insulated from costs and may find it difficult to judge quality due to information asymmetries and their infrequent use of services.
  • This means that the question – what do we expect or want of competition? – is not so easily answered in health care settings, and lessons from other sectors might not apply.

Key points:

  • Proximity to the health care provider, rather than quality, remains the key driver of patient choice.
  • There is potential tension between stimulating quality competition and controlling expenditure because restrictions on hospital treatments imply that money does not follow the patient, and hospitals may react by making access more difficult or letting their waiting times increase.
  • Information for assessing proposed hospital mergers requires improvement, particularly information on quality.
  • There is limited scope for further expansion in the use of private providers to treat NHS patients given the current focus on controlling expenditure.
  • The economic rationale for controlling entry of providers into general practice is unclear.
  • Selective contracting for patients with chronic and multiple conditions to reduce fragmentation of care raises concerns for competition and regulation. This is because of the long-term nature of the implied contracts and the restricted pool of potential providers willing to bid for these contracts.

Read the working paper here

The cost-effectiveness of electronic discharge communications

The transition between acute care and community care can be a vulnerable period in a patients’ treatment due to the potential for postdischarge adverse events | BMJ Open

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Background: The vulnerability of this period has been attributed to factors related to the miscommunication between hospital-based and community-based physicians. Electronic discharge communication has been proposed as one solution to bridge this communication gap. Prior to widespread implementation of these tools, the costs and benefits should be considered.

Objective: To establish the cost and cost-effectiveness of electronic discharge communications compared with traditional discharge systems for individuals who have completed care with one provider and are transitioning care to a new provider.

Results: One thousand unique abstracts were identified, and 57 full-text articles were assessed for eligibility. Four studies met final inclusion criteria. These studies varied in their primary objectives, methodology, costs reported and outcomes. All of the studies were of low to good quality. Three of the studies reported a cost-effectiveness measure ranging from an incremental daily cost of decreasing average discharge note completion by 1 day of $0.331 (2003 Canadian), a cost per page per discharge letter of €9.51 and a dynamic net present value of €31.1 million for a 5-year implementation of the intervention. None of the identified studies considered clinically meaningful patient or quality outcomes.

Discussion: Economic analyses of electronic discharge communications are scarcely reported, and with inconsistent methodology and outcomes. Further studies are needed to understand the cost-effectiveness and value for patient care.

Full reference: Sevick, L.K. et al. (2017) A systematic review of the cost and cost-effectiveness of electronic discharge communications. BMJ Open. 7:e014722. 

NHS efficiency map: updates

The HFMA and NHS Improvement have worked in partnership to update and revise the NHS efficiency map.

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Image source: HFMA

The map is a tool that promotes best practice in identifying, delivering and monitoring cost improvement programmes (CIPs) in the NHS. The map contains links to a range of tools and guidance to help NHS bodies improve their efficiency.

The national focus on improving efficiency and productivity will mean taking local action to deliver savings remains a priority for all NHS organisations. Aimed at NHS finance directors and their teams and other NHS staff with an interest in the delivery of CIPs, the purpose of the NHS efficiency map is to highlight existing resources on eliminating waste, increasing efficiency and at the same time improving quality and safety.

The map is split into three sections: enablers for efficiency, provider efficiency and system efficiency. The map highlights the successes some NHS providers have had in delivering specific efficiency schemes and provides sign-posts to existing tools and reference materials. It also includes updated definitions for different types of efficiency.

The map will be updated as new tools and case studies are produced.

The case studies produced to date are:

Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program Reduces Length of Stay

Moody, C. et al. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. Published online: 3 December 2016

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Infants born at ≤32 weeks gestation are at risk of developmental delays. Review of the literature indicates NIDCAP improves parental satisfaction, minimizes developmental delays, and decreases length of stay, thus reducing cost of hospitalization.

Highlights:

  • NIDCAP is a proven framework for providing developmentally supportive care in the NICU, and can mitigate risks of prematurity
  • Earlier initiation of NIDCAP led to discharge at a younger post-menstrual age
  • Quality improvement investigations are effective in addressing critical healthcare needs

Read the full abstract here