- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH
The Lown Institute, which has partnered with AFP since 2018 on a series of Right Care articles addressing clinical scenarios of overuse and underuse in primary care, recently released the second edition of its Hospitals Index. Unlike traditional metrics that are primarily based on a hospital's revenue and reputation, the Lown Institute Hospitals Index ranks U.S. hospitals by equity, value, and outcomes nationally and by state. This year, Lown produced separate rankings of hospitals by overuse of low-value tests and procedures, racial inclusivity, and community benefit.
A key finding of this year's community benefit ranking is that more than 7 in 10 private nonprofit hospitals spend less on charity care and community investment than they receive in tax breaks (what Lown terms a "fair share deficit"). These hospitals' collective fair share deficit was $17 billion, with the bottom ten hospitals representing $1.8 billion of that national total. Although pre-2010 data are not available for comparison, the size of this deficit seems to suggest that the Affordable Care Act's requirement for nonprofit hospitals to conduct community health needs assessments (CHNAs) every 3 years hasn't led to greater investments in community health. However, New York State's Prevention Agenda legislatively required nonprofit hospitals to collaborate with local health departments on CHNAs starting in 2013. A recent analysis of IRS data found that compared to a control group of hospitals in the other 49 states and District of Columbia, New York hospitals increased their mean spending on population health improvement by $393,000-$786,000.
More information on the Lown Institute Hospitals Index methodology is available in a JAMA Network Open article and in recorded webinars and explanatory videos. U.S. News & World Report has announced that its 2021-22 Best Hospitals ranking will incorporate Lown's metric for overuse of spinal fusion. In an editorial in the May 15 issue of AFP, Drs. Alan Roth and Andy Lazris pointed out that a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many patients avoided unnecessary spinal fusions and other interventions of questionable benefit, such as electrocardiograms in asymptomatic, low-risk adults. Whether these gains in Choosing Wisely will be preserved post-pandemic is unclear. Finally, in a June 15 Lown Right Care article, Drs. Roth and Lazris joined AFP Patient Partners Helen Haskell and John James in highlighting the negative health consequences of poor physician-patient communication.