Study ranks Utah health care high for patient outcomes, not so good for access

Image by ipopba/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah has the 15th best overall health care system in the U.S., according to a study that compared the 50 states and District of Columbia.

The study conducted by WalletHub examined 40 metrics in three categories: cost, access and outcomes.

The metrics included cost of medical visits, average monthly insurance premium, average emergency room wait time, physician medicare acceptance rate, number of people insured, infant mortality rates, number of healthcare workers and health statistics such as those with cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Utah ranked No. 25 for cost, No. 34 for access and No. 6 for patient outcomes.

Map displays how states ranked in regard to health care, showing darker colored states with better health care and lighter colored states with worse health care. | Image courtesy of WalletHub, St. George News.

The study found Vermont to have the best overall health care system while Louisiana has the worst.

As far as individual metrics, Utah has the lowest heart disease rates and the second-lowest average monthly insurance premium.

On the downside, it has the second-lowest number of hospital beds per capita and is No. 47 in physicians per capita.

Read more: Report: Utah doctors 4th most overworked in U.S.

Those lower numbers may not necessarily be problematic in Utah. As being the state with the lowest cases of heart disease reflects, Utah is the fourth healthiest state in the U.S., according to a 2017 United Health Foundation report. Since Utah citizens are overall healthier than most, they may not need as many physicians or hospital beds if more people are staying out of the hospital.

“Utah does consistently rank as a healthy state and we are a younger state, too. Younger, healthier people require much less medical care,” said Dr. Steve VanNorman, chief medical officer at Dixie Regional Medical Center.

Additionally, the number of beds that a hospital has is not an accurate measure of quality health care, VanNorman said. Today’s health care is moving toward less-invasive operations, so fewer beds are needed.

Utah is also careful not to build too many beds, he said, as some other states who are now closing hospitals have. However, DRMC is adding more beds as part of its expansion project, which will provide a sufficient number of beds to keep up with the growing community.

Utah is right in the middle at No. 25 for cost. The average American spends over $10,000 on personal health care a year, which is approximately 17.9 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Many different factors can affect cost, according to the study, including more advanced medical equipment, overall population health and general lack of awareness for best treatment types.

Intermountain Healthcare has often been credited with having some of the lowest national health care costs, Chief Nursing Officer Amy Christensen said. However, Utah may have ranked higher because patient out-of-pocket costs might be more due to high-deductible insurance plans.

While spending more money on health care can mean better quality, that is not always the case. The U.S. as a whole is worse off in regard to health coverage, life expectancy and disease when compared to other comparably wealthy countries, while individuals in the U.S. are spending twice as much on health care, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dixie Regional is making changes to both reduce health care costs and improve the community’s overall health by establishing the Utah Alliance for the Determinants of Health to focus on prevention.

Read More: New alliance seeks to improve health by addressing nonmedical factors

“In cooperation with other community and government leaders, we must improve the social determinants of health to prevent illness and injury in the first place,” Van Norman said.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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