Background: Canadians are engaged in an intense debate about the relative merits of private for-profit versus private not-for-profit health care delivery. To inform this debate, we undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies comparing the mortality rates of private for-profit hospitals and those of private not-for-profit hospitals.
Methods: We identified studies through an electronic search of 11 bibliographical databases, our own files, consultation with experts, reference lists, PubMed and SciSearch. We masked the study results before determining study eligibility. Our eligibility criteria included observational studies or randomized controlled trials that compared private for-profit and private not-for-profit hospitals. We excluded studies that evaluated mortality rates in hospitals with a particular profit status that subsequently converted to the other profit status. For each study, we calculated a relative risk of mortality for private for-profit hospitals relative to private not-for-profit hospitals and pooled the studies of adult populations that included adjustment for potential confounders (e.g., teaching status, severity of illness) using a random effects model.
Results: Fifteen observational studies, involving more than 26 000 hospitals and 38 million patients, fulfilled the eligibility criteria. In the studies of adult populations, with adjustment for potential confounders, private for-profit hospitals were associated with an increased risk of death (relative risk [RR] 1.020, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.003-1.038; p = 0.02). The one perinatal study with adjustment for potential confounders also showed an increased risk of death in private for-profit hospitals (RR 1.095, 95% CI 1.050-1.141; p < 0.0001).
Interpretation: Our meta-analysis suggests that private for-profit ownership of hospitals, in comparison with private not-for-profit ownership, results in a higher risk of death for patients.