Local area scores well in hospital study

Residents of Glendale, Burbank and nearby areas are less likely to be admitted to hospitals for preventable medical problems than other California residents, according to a new state study.

The study, commissioned by the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, offers insight into how well preventive care reduces medical emergencies and hospital stays.

Statewide, hospital admissions have dropped from 113 people per 1,000 in 1999 to 105 people per 1,000 in 2008, according to the study. Unnecessary hospitalizations have dropped in 10 out of 15 types of medical conditions studied.

A lower percentage of local patients were hospitalized for most of the conditions studied, including complications from diabetes, pulmonary disease, pneumonia and angina. Categories where more people in the valley were admitted to hospitals than elsewhere included hypertension, dehydration and urinary tract infections, according to the study.

The local region includes cites in the area spanning from La Cañada Flintridge to Calabasas.

Local hospital officials attributed the results to the wide availability of medical care, a more affluent population and an increasing emphasis on preventive care.

Michael Hunn, chief executive of Providence Health and Services, which operates Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, said he read an article this summer about a woman who was admitted to a hospital after eating too many hot dogs on the Fourth of July. His first impression was that her eating habits are not her medical provider's problem.

But with high costs for emergency treatment, competition for hospital beds and insurers offering reduced payments for readmitted patients, "we are responsible for this person eating two hot dogs," he said. "From a preventable treatment standpoint, we as a health system now have to be very tuned in."

Providence spent more than $90 million on prevention and education in the San Fernando Valley last year, and instituted a follow-up program with heart patients to make sure they stay on the road to recovery after they leave the hospital.

Verdugo Hills Hospital Chief Executive Leonard LaBella said medical groups, where doctors work as part of a local network of specialists, tend to offer more comprehensive care than fee-for-service physicians.

He said more such groups operate in this region than elsewhere in the state.

"Physicians that practice this way have higher patient satisfaction," LaBella said.

Preventive care also allows hospitals to be more judicious in their use of expensive equipment and drugs, he added.

Hunn said hospitals are busy enough without the patients whose conditions could have been better controlled.

"We are so busy with true emergency patients, we want you to get your flu shot," Hunn said. "We don't want you in the emergency room at 3 in the morning with pneumonia."

To see the state report, visit http://www.oshpd.ca.gov.

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