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In our opinion: Quality of Utah hospitals is high, but the state may need more health care services

Intermountain Medical Center and Primary Children’s among America’s most beautiful hospitals.
Intermountain Medical Center and Primary Children’s among America’s most beautiful hospitals.
Soliant Health

With health care funding a primary topic of recent political debates, Utah can take some satisfaction in the quality of its hospitals, but policymakers must be clearheaded in deciding the quantity of health care services needed going forward.

The recent U.S. News and World Report ranking of hospitals across the country looked at “nearly 5,000 hospitals in 16 adult specialties, 9 adult procedures and conditions and 10 pediatric specialties.” It represents one of the more comprehensive comparative measures of quality among medical institutions nationally. To be ranked nationally, an institution must rank in the top 50 institutions in a particular specialty.

Utahns should be pleased to find that three institutions in the state were nationally ranked: University of Utah Health Care-Hospital and Clinics in Salt Lake City (two adult specialties), Intermountain Medical Center in Murray (one adult specialty) and Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City (10 pediatric specialties). In addition, a number of hospitals were rated as “high-performing” in a variety of procedures and conditions.

With three nationally ranked institutions, Utah compares well against other similarly sized states such as Iowa and Arkansas (the two states closest to Utah in total population), which each have a single institution ranked nationally.

While Utah compares well with other states on quality of its flagship hospitals, the quantity of health care is another matter. Utah employs about 20 percent fewer health care workers than the national average when comparing the number of health care workers as a percent of the total workforce. In fact, among the major industry categories measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Utah’s health care employment is farther below the national average than any other major industry sector in the state.

This no doubt reflects an efficient health care system and a relatively healthy population — which is to be applauded. However, it also suggests there may be some in the state who are not receiving the services they require, especially with regard to citizens in rural counties with few doctors. The current debate on expanding Medicaid coverage in the state is also an example of this deficiency.

Additionally, there’s a growing recognition that many of the homeless in Utah require more medical services to become stable members of the community. These factors, combined with a growing population and the inevitable increase in medical services that will be required for the retiring baby boomers, suggest demand for health care workers and services in Utah will increase in the coming years, and the state must be able to supply it while still maintaining quality.

How the state meets this growing need will be one of several key factors in the state’s future economic and social success. Additional funding will be required as well as additional skilled workers. Balancing the future supply against the rising demand for these medical services — while maintaining the high quality of services Utahns expect — will be essential to the state's healthy and prosperous future.