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How not to cut health care costs

Robert S Kaplan, Derek A Haas
Harvard Business Review 2014, 92 (11): 116-22, 142
Health care providers in much of the world are trying to respond to the tremendous pressure to reduce costs--but evidence suggests that many of their attempts are counterproductive, raising costs and sometimes decreasing the quality of care. Kaplan and Haas reached this conclusion after conducting field research with more than 50 health care provider organizations. Administrators looking for cuts typically work from the line-item expense categories on their P&Ls, they found. This may appear to generate immediate results, but it usually does not reflect the optimal mix of resources needed to efficiently deliver excellent care. The authors describe five common mistakes: (1) Reducing support staff. This often lowers the productivity of clinicians, whose time is far more expensive. (2) Underinvesting in space and equipment. The costs of these are consistently an order of magnitude smaller than personnel costs, so cuts here are short-sighted if they lower people's productivity. (3) Focusing narrowly on procurement prices and neglecting to examine how individual clinicians actually consume supplies. (4) Maximizing patient throughput. Physicians achieve greater overall productivity by spending more time with fewer patients. (5) Failing to benchmark and standardize. Administrators, in collaboration with clinicians, should examine all the costs of treating patients' conditions. This will uncover multiple opportunities to improve processes in ways that lower total costs and deliver better care.


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