In health care, statistics generally refer to the numbers -- called numerical data -- that describe the characteristics of groups of people. Statistics are important for guiding decisions regarding health care. They are ways to summarize utilization, effectiveness and costs of medical goods and services. Health care organizations, including hospitals, large health care provider groups and government health and human service agencies, use statistics to obtain important information regarding current health care usage, to assess the needs of consumers and to make decisions about allocating limited resources. Hospitals and other provider groups use statistics to develop continuous quality improvement programs to maximize the efficiency and quality of health care. Pharmaceutical and technology companies use statistics when developing new products.
Health Care Utilization
Statistics can provide important information about current utilization of health care goods and services. Hospital administrators, for example, use statistics regarding utilization at their institution when applying for funding and to justify budget expenses to their governing boards. When actual information regarding utilization is unknown -- such as when considering large groups of people in the general population -- statistics can help predict health care utilization. Demographic statistics can be used for this purpose. Demographic information about people, like their age, sex, race, income and disabilities, can predict the types of services they are using and the level of care that is affordable for them.
In their book “Health Economics: Theories, Insights, and Industry Studies,” health care economists Rexford Santerre and Stephen Neun emphasize the importance of statistics in the allocation of limited or scarce medical resources. Statistical information is invaluable in determining what goods and services to produce and which groups of people to offer them to. Health care statistics improve allocation and production efficiency. Inevitably, allocation decisions involve trade-offs -- the costs of lost or missed opportunities when choosing one economic decision over another. Reliable statistics are important to help minimize the risks of health care trade-offs by providing the most appropriate care to the most appropriate individuals.
According to Frederick Gravetter and Larry Wallnau in “Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences,” statistics create order out of chaos by summarizing and simplifying information about complex groups of people. Health care administrators, charged with providing care to diverse groups of people, determine existing services and assess the needs of the communities they serve. Analysis of statistics is a critical component in a needs assessment. Statistics are equally important in helping pharmaceutical and technology companies develop products that meet the needs of consumers.
Hospitals and other health care provider groups strive to provide high-quality services in an efficient manner. Statistics are useful to determine whether they are successful in meeting specific performance goals. The statistical information can then be used in the development of quality improvement programs designed to improve health care delivery. Specific standards -- or benchmarks -- of service excellence are used to measure the success of these programs. Statistical information regarding whether the benchmarks are met is used to assess the effectiveness of quality improvement programs.
Innovative medicine depends on statistics. Developing new technologies and treatments requires conducting studies to determine their effects. The results of these studies are recorded as statistics, which are then analyzed to determine whether the benefits of a product outweigh against its risks. Statistics regarding potential consumers also help steer developers toward focusing on products that will be most profitable to the company. Furthermore, statistics may indirectly influence product pricing by providing information about consumer demand.
Reviewed by: Mary D. Daley, M.D.