Health care decisions by and for Medicare patients differ widely by place; Lexington big in back surgery, low in mastectomy

All medicine involves decisions and, according to a new series of nine reports published by the Dartmouth Atlas Project, those decisions differ drastically by location for Medicare patients. In the East South Central region — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi), the variation between how things are diagnosed and treated can change when one crosses county lines.

An example, with numbers but without explanation: The total knee replacement rate in Harlan is 3.3 per 1,000 Medicare beneficaries; in Bardstown, it’s 13.8. As the report goes on to note: “If you have heart disease and live in Huntsville, Ala., you are half as likely to undergo balloon angioplasty than if you live in Hattiesburg, Miss., and twice as likely to undergo back surgery if you live in Lexington, Ky.” The greatest variation in the region was seen in mastectomy, ranging from a low of 0.3 percent per 1,000 female Medicare beneficiaries in Lexington to 2.1 per 1,000 in Tupelo, Miss.

The point, researchers say, is that providers and patients need to work together to determine care. The report looked at rates for early-stage breast cancer, stable angina, low back pain, arthritis of the knee or hip, carotid artery disease, gallstones, enlarged prostate, and early-stage prostate cancer. Read the report here.

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