Charting the consolidation of US healthcare

As much discussion as there’s been about consolidation in the hospital industry recently, there are surprisingly few good sources of data on the scope and scale of multi-hospital systems in the US. One very helpful resource is the Compendium of US Health Systems, a project sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

First launched in 2016, the compendium includes downloadable data on 626 health systems, with information about location, number of beds, number of discharges, and other key characteristics. This spring, AHRQ supplemented the data set with new information about participation in payment reform pilots and provider-sponsored health plan activity. Drawing on this information, we constructed the interactive graphic below—click on the chart or follow this link to explore the data. A few highlights indicate how consolidated the hospital sector has become.

Health systems account for more than 90 percent of all discharges in the US, with the largest 11 systems accounting for a quarter of discharges, and the largest 67 accounting for half. Nonprofit systems dominate the landscape, and many of those are multi-state enterprises. And the trend toward consolidation continues apace. When AHRQ first released the data set in 2016, there were 626 systems on the list; the last two years have seen that number decrease to 591, with several large systems merging together. We’ll continue to mine this rich resource for more insights in the weeks to come.


The Drivers of Health: What makes us healthy?

The Drivers


What makes us healthy?

We have an intuitive sense that things like what we eat, how much we exercise, the quality of our water and air, and getting appropriate health care when sick all help us stay healthy, but how much do each of these factors matter?

Studies have also shown that our incomes, education, even racial identity are associated with health — so-called “social determinants of health.”

How much do social determinants matter? How much does the health system improve our health?

In the 1970s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to answer these questions but had little rigorous science to guide it. Though we know a great deal more today, they still have not been fully answered. This is no mere curiosity — knowing what makes us healthy will help us direct investments into the right programs.

Over the years, many frameworks have been developed to illuminate what affects health. The relationships are so complex that no single framework captures everything. To get us started on this research project — and our broader conversation about what drives health — we created a model that allows us to explore some of the dimensions of these drivers, and their relationships to each other.

The Framework

We developed our framework by reviewing research on factors that influence health and surveying similar projects and tools from prominent organizations . It is not meant to be complete, but a starting point that allows us to think about what drives health and how.

Indirect vs. Direct Factors
Many things affect health, some directly and others indirectly. Government/policy, income/wealth, education, and racial identity don’t necessarily affect health in an immediate way. They are indirect factors that tend to affect health through complex pathways. Those pathways usually involve other factors that more immediately affect health. These are the direct factors such as occupation, health care access, and health behaviors.

Why these Outcomes?
There are many possible health outcomes. The framework includes four examples—age-adjusted mortality, life expectancy, quality of life/well-being, and functional status. These outcomes are commonly studied, prevalent in the literature, and reflect the kinds of things people care most about.

The Drivers