Designing High-Cost Medicine

Hospital Surveys, Health Planning and the Paradox of Progressive Reform

Inspired by social medicine, some progressive U.S. health reforms have paradoxically reinforced a business model of high-cost medical delivery that does not match social needs. In analyzing the financial status of their areas’ hospitals, for example, city-wide hospital surveys of the 1910s through 1930s sought to direct capital investments and, in so doing, control competition and markets. The two national health planning programs that ran from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s continued similar strategies of economic organization and management, as did the so-called market reforms that followed. Consequently, these reforms promoted large, extremely specialized, capital intensive institutions and systems at the expense of less complex (and less costly) primary and chronic care. The current capital crisis may expose the lack of sustainability of such a model and open up new ideas and new ways to build health care designed to meet people’s health needs.