not what the doctor ordered

Report: Houston ranks among the worst cities for unnecessary medical treatments

Houston hospitals have been reported to have an excess of unnecessary health care tests and procedures. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston boasts of being home to the Texas Medical Center, the world's biggest medical complex. Yet Houston's medical community also holds a distinction that's hardly boast-worthy: It's the worst major metro area in Texas for unnecessary health care tests and procedures.

A study released May 4 by the Lown Institute, a health care think tank, shows hospitals in the Houston area collectively fare worse than their counterparts in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin for overuse of tests and procedures that the institute says offer little to no benefit.

To come up with its ranking, the institute looked at Medicare data for more than 1 million tests and procedures performed at over 3,100 U.S. hospitals from 2016 to 2018. Among the overused tests and procedures identified in the study are hysterectomy for benign disease, placement of coronary stents for stable heart disease, and diagnostic tests like head imaging for fainting.

"Overuse in American hospitals is a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed," Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, says in a news release. "Hospitals want to do better, and these objective measures of performance can help them move forward."

Hospitals in Texas ranked fourth worst among all the states for overuse of hospital tests and procedures, the institute says.

Among hospitals in the Houston area, Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital ranked worst for overuse of tests and procedures, preceded by Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital in Humble, OakBend Medical Center in Richmond, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, and St. Luke's Health - The Woodlands Hospital, the study says.

At the other end of the spectrum, Houston's Doctors Hospital Tidwell ranks first among Houston-area hospitals for avoiding overuse of tests and procedures, followed by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Harris Health System, and HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake in Webster.

Estimates suggest that overuse of tests and procedures contributes $75.7 billion to $101.2 billion to wasted U.S. health care spending each year, according to a study published by the journal JAMA Open Health.

"Although clinicians are responsible for ordering tests and treatments, their practice patterns may be influenced by hospital policies and culture. Hospital-level interventions to reduce overuse exist, but to measure and compare their success, a hospital-level measure is required," the study says.

In 2017, a study appearing in the Journal of Hospital Medicine declared that overuse of medical services contributes to low-quality health care and high health care costs. It's estimated that 42 percent of Medicare patients, 15 percent of Medicaid patients, and 11 percent of traditionally insured patients are subjected to at least one overuse of medical services each year, according to an article published by the Journal of Health Affairs.

"We can leverage the circumstances created by the pandemic to advance our understanding of low-value care with the goal of better measurement, appreciation of its harms, and a deeper understanding of its drivers and determinants, so that interventions can be implemented," authors of the Journal of Health Affairs article wrote. "Low-value care harms patients; there has never been a better time to push toward eliminating hurtful practices."

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Building Houston

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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