BUPA is moving to monitor the cost and quality of operations. It plans to compare recovery rates for medical procedures between both hospitals and surgeons.
Around 170 of Britain’s 220 independent hospitals are expected to take part in the audit. All are BUPA “network” hospitals – which perform operations for set sums – or are directly owned by the health company.
Such a large scale audit in which consultants will be able to see in confidence how their work matches that of colleagues is previously unknown in the private sector.
Dr Andrew Vallance-Oven, BUPA’s medical director, said: “Despite the well deserved reputation for quality of care in the private sector, there is a need for independent hospitals to obtain real evidence to confirm the point. We are pulling together an enormous amount of valuable information on surgical procedures and, more importantly, their outcomes.”
Patients will be invited to gauge their levels of discomfort before and after operations. This information should indicate the best treatment paths when combined with audit data, such as recovery times, drugs and surgical techniques used.
A pilot study in nine BUPA owned hospitals is already showing dividends, the company says. Whether it gets similar co-operation from doctors and managers in hospitals not owned by the insurer remains to be seen. But audit in the NHS has clearly proved its value to patients and taxpayers.
Doctors in the new scheme will be given anonymous results showing how their patients perceive their treatment. Surgeons will be able to compare these reactions to those provoked in patients by colleagues who are using different techniques.
Differences could be startling. A BUPA study of 11 gynaecologists in the same unit showed that some incurred three times the costs of their colleagues for a uterus examination. Some wasted blood stocks, over-ordered X-rays, spent twice the average on drugs and prescribed overnight stays to no benefit.
Healthcare analysts say such discrepancies are common, suggesting huge scope for improvement and economies.