Later this year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will issue its first report measuring hospital productivity. It won't be good news.
According to preliminary data to appear in a forthcoming Monthly Labor Review article, hospital productivity fell 0.2% a year between 2001 and 2010. Over nearly two decades, the output derived from the cost of labor and capital poured into healthcare—the classic measure of productivity—rose at a paltry 0.7% average annual rate.
By comparison, U.S. productivity over that longer period, including the healthcare sector, went up an average of 2% a year.
The next time you hear economists bellyaching about the nation's low productivity and blaming it for stagnation in the take-home pay of average Americans, know that they should really be complaining about healthcare's drag on overall economic performance.
While many healthcare economists question the accuracy of the BLS approach, which the agency's economists admit fails to take into account quality (outcomes), no one thinks the sector is doing a good job of deploying its resources in a cost-effective manner.
You don't have to be a sophisticated bean counter to understand what is going on. When hospital employment rises year after year, despite falling admissions and patient days, efficiency clearly hasn't been a high priority for hospital administrators.