Demand Uncertainty and Hospital Costs: an Application to Portuguese NHS Hospitals
In this paper, we evaluate the effect of demand uncertainty on hospital costs. Since hospital managers want to minimize the probability of not having enough capacity to satisfy demand, hospitals have to build excess capacity since demand is uncertain, and incur on the associated costs. Using panel data that comprises information for 43 Portuguese NHS hospitals for the period 2007 to 2009, we estimate a translog cost function that relates total variable costs to the usual variables (outputs, the price of inputs, some of the hospitals’ organizational characteristics) and an additional term measuring the excess capacity related to the uncertainty of demand. Demand uncertainty is measured as the difference between actual and projected demand for emergency services. Our results indicate that the cost function term associated with the uncertainty of demand is significant, which means that cost functions that do not include this type of term may be misspecified. For most of our sample, hospitals that face higher demand uncertainty have higher excess capacity and higher costs. Furthermore, we identify economies of scale in hospital costs, at least for smaller hospitals, suggesting that a policy of merging smaller hospitals would make a significant contribution to the reduction of hospital costs.
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