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Study: Ranking Poor Indicator of Hospital Quality

Hospital rankings are poor indicators of quality, according to new research showing that high-ranking hospitals have only slightly lower death rates than those with the lowest ratings, that make the most mistakes.

The study, which is published in today’s Journal of the Medical Association and was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, evaluated 3,657 hospitals across the country that are ranked on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website.

The Hospital Compare site ranks hospitals based on treatment recommendations and is intended to help consumers shop for quality healthcare. However, the study findings “raise questions about the appropriateness of using Hospital Compare performance measures as the basis either for pay-for-performance systems or for consumers to identify better-quality hospitals.”

Marginal Differences

Researchers specifically looked at three conditions – pneumonia, heart attack, and heart failure – which often result in hospitalization. They found that the death rates for patients with these conditions were only marginally lower for those at top-ranked hospitals than those at the lowest rated ones.

Both high and low ranking hospitals showed a 7 percent death rate for heart attack patients, with the highly rated ones losing just 0.5 percent less patients over the course of a year.

Similarly, the death rate for patients who were treated for heart failure differed by only 0.1 percent, amounting to approximately 3 percent for both the best and worst hospitals.

Pneumonia treatments at top ranked showed a slightly lower death rate than that of poorly ranked hospitals – by merely 0.5 percent – with both averaging a loss of about 4 percent of patients.

Based on these findings, researchers concluded that better, more accurate, performance measures are needed to help consumers make good healthcare choices.

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