The recent growth in specialty hospitals that are largely for-profit and owned, in part, by physicians, has been controversial. Advocates of these hospitals contend that the focused mission and dedicated resources of specialty hospitals both improve quality and reduce costs. Critics contend that specialty hospitals siphon off the most profitable procedures and patient cases, thus eroding the financial health of neighboring general hospitals and impairing their ability to provide emergency care and other essential community services. Critics also contend that physician ownership of specialty hospitals creates financial incentives that may inappropriately affect physicians' clinical and referral behavior. In April 2003, GAO reported on certain aspects of specialty hospitals, including the extent of physician ownership and the relative severity of patients treated (GAO-03-683R). For this report, GAO was asked to examine (1) state policies and local conditions associated with the location of specialty hospitals, (2) how specialty hospitals differ from general hospitals in providing emergency care and serving a community's other medical needs, and (3) how specialty and general hospitals in the same communities compare in terms of market share and financial health.
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