Star Tribune touts hospital's birthing center amenities – but why?

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Here’s the headline: “Buffalo birthing center has the latest amenities.”

And here’s an excerpt:

“Starting in August, new mothers will have a chance to multi-task in style in Buffalo, Minn.

The local hospital is unveiling its new birth center, where every patient room will be equipped with an iPod docking station, a flat-screen TV and DVD player, a soaking tub, rocking chair and refrigerator — oh, and a place for the baby to sleep, too.

Buffalo Hospital has spent $7.1 million to turn its old labor and delivery unit into a state-of-the-art facility to appeal to a new generation of patients.

At maternity wards around the country, that increasingly means catering to patients and families as if they’re at “a luxury hotel,” as the Buffalo Hospital website puts it.”

And here’s how some smart readers reacted:

Bioethicist Steve Miles submitted this comment to the Strib online:

“It is so sweet that moms can start multitasking before they have a chance to leave the TV on during what used to be “family time” during dinner. –1 out of 13 persons in Wright County do not have health insurance. I hope that Buffalo hospital will step up and offer them means catering to patients and families as if they’re at catering at the level of “a luxury hotel” including iPod docking stations, a flat-screen TV and DVD player, a soaking tub, rocking chair and refrigerator — oh, and a place for the baby to sleep, too. –Oh silly me, the hospital website advises “Prior to receiving services at an Allina facility, we recommend that you verify coverage with your health insurance plan.” “

Gary Thaden, government affairs director for the Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association – and a guy who knows a bit about health care since he’s trustee for a $50 million/year health plan – wrote:

“What if the Buffalo Hospital had spent $7.1 million on lowering their hospital inspections rate? How many fewer people would have been sick if the hospital had passed on the DVD player and original artwork? Why isn’t the StarTribune investigating the economic disincentive hospitals have to lower their infection rate?”

Bioethicist Carl Elliott wrote to me – short, not so sweet, but to the point:

“Oh man, that turns my stomach.”

Addendum on July 26: Sometimes republishes some of my blog posts, as they did with this one. There were some interesting online comments on the MPT site. Examples:

• As a former hospital nurse, this remodeling job doesn’t surprise me a bit. I’ve seen it happening over and over again for thirty years. It was at least 15 years ago that one of my floor managers gave us a lecture during a staff meeting about how our patients are our customers, and it’s our job to provide good customer service. Her most memorable words: Patients don’t care if you’re saving their life — just be sure the coffee you’re bringing them is hot. As a society, we have developed a disgusting level of attitude about personal entitlement. The basics just aren’t good enough for us anymore. We deserve at least the appearance of the very latest, the very best, etc., no matter the fallout around us. Whether or not what we’re lusting after is necessarily good for us, for society, or for the earth is secondary.

• Turns my stomach too. Are your bioethicist friends going to point out why the hospital advertises these amenities? (Hint: it’s about money).

They do it because birthing is a bellwhether event (if you give birth at a place, you are likely to choose it for other types of care), and more importantly, because birthing stays are, in the main, short, cheap, and high reimbursement. In short, hospitals recoup the money they spend on birthing centers, whereas no one is paying for lower infection rates, or shorter ED stays, or decreased readmissions (the last of which actually directly reduces reimbursement, regardless of being right for the patient).

Perverse incentives of this kind are why the market (at least as currently structured) can never make health care *better*, only pricier. So get out your wallet, because you just paid for a bunch of DVD players, iPod docks, soaking tubs and rocking chairs which most of you will never use.

• WHY?….Marketing! We are becoming only for what is looking right not what is right . the relatively few with a paying source or big pocketbook and champagne taste are driving the resources allotment based on marketing and focus groups. The will to do right, lead responsibly is being trumped and, well handwashing is a low tech solution with measurable outcomes it’s just not glitzy enough. We need some real hard looks in the mirror!

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Comments (8)

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Bill Gleason

July 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

And closer to home we have the children’s hospital wars with over the top facilities, including at the U: a new building clocking in at, I believe, a million dollars a bed. Are we building health spas and recreational facilities or places to treat people who are sick? And people wonder why health care is so expensive?
Bill Gleason, U of M faculty and alum

Chris Johnson

July 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm

The invisible hand of the market is at work in Buffalo, apparently, and demonstrating why the market is the wrong way to do healthcare.


July 23, 2010 at 7:07 pm

These are fair points. I would point out:
1) The insurance companies aren’t paying any more for these amenities. The rundown hospital down the street will get the same reimbursement.
2)They’re applying the old saw If you get the mom to come to your hospital the rest of the family will follow
3)So if we’re spending too much on health care, where is the money coming from to pay for this? if this is “unnecessary” then someone’s paid an “unnecessary” amount to the hospital for something else. That’s the target to go after.


July 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Uh, oh. I feel a bit of cynicism coming. Maybe with all the multitasking, the women won’t notice that the medical team is multitasking too. Amniotomy. Fetal monitors. Epidurals. Moms tethered to their beds because they can no longer feel their legs underneath them. Give me a low cesarean rate over a glitzy, glamorous birth suite with an ipod docking station any day. No wonder the number of women birthing at home is climbing again.