Patients treated at specialty cancer hospitals have a 10 percent lower chance of dying in the first year than those who receive care at community hospitals, according to a study of Medicare claims and other data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study, funded and produced by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, analyzed survival and administrative data for about 750,000 Medicare patients treated for cancer in 2006 at hospitals throughout the country.
Researchers found significant survival differences between different types of hospitals caring for Medicare patients with cancer. At one year, patients treated by hospitals belonging to the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers had higher survival rates across all types of cancers studied — and the pattern persisted through five years of follow-up care, according to the study.
Those hospitals, including the University of Miami Health System’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, are paid higher rates by Medicare under a system created by Congress in 1983 to exempt hospitals that tend to care for sicker patients.
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Researchers for Memorial Sloan Kettering, which also belongs to that group of hospitals, acknowledged some limitations of their findings. For instance, they hesitated to rely solely on Medicare claims to gauge the severity of individual cases because that data lacks potentially critical information about a patient’s cancer, such as the stage and timing of a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer centers belonging to that special group came under scrutiny last year from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which reported that those centers lack incentives to control costs and that their patients are not much sicker than those treated at other hospitals.