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Strong correlation between hospital bed availability and use, study

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | February 15, 2013
Paul Delamater,
Michigan State University
"A bed built is a bed filled" — that was the takeaway from a 1959 study on the high correlation between the number of hospital beds available and the number being used, regardless of medical necessity. Now, a research team from Michigan State University has dusted off that study, redone the research and gotten the same results.

Geographer Paul Delamater and his research team examined all 1.1 million of Michigan's hospital admissions in 2010 and found a strong correlation between bed availability and use. The trend was high even taking in factors that may lead to hospitalization, such as the nature of the ailment, health insurance coverage, access to primary care and patient mobility.

"I realized that much of the thought about hospital beds and why we regulate hospital beds hinged on an article from 1959 that hadn't been proven very well," Delamater told DOTmed News. "I wanted to go about proving or empirically verifying the content, this idea that if you build a hospital people will go to fill the beds."

The 1959 study influenced standards such as the Certificate of Need approval that 28 states require before a new hospital can be built. Michigan, for example, has too many acute care hospitals for its population and has rejected three hospital requests is the past decade. Two of the hospitals were built after a special appeal, however.

Though Delamater was able to confirm the correlation, proving why it exists will be a bigger challenge.

"I don't know where it comes from," he said. "I have to believe that some of it is economic pressure from hospital administrators to fill up. If we're talking about a situation where there's a brand new multi-million dollar facility, I'm sure they don't want to have 20 percent of their hospital filled."

For the next stage of the study, Delamater plans to zero-in on different parts of the state to determine the factors behind overused as well as underused facilities.

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