Tag Archives: hospital ratings

Hospital ratings: How journalists can help consumers have important conversations

About Kerry Dooley Young

Kerry Dooley Young (@kdooleyyoung) is AHCJ's core topic leader on patient safety. She has written extensively about the Food and Drug Administration, medical research, health policy and quality measurements. Her work has appeared in Medscape Medical News, Congressional Quarterly/CQ Roll Call and Bloomberg News.

Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr.

Many of our readers, listeners and viewers are not aware of the different ratings available to help consumers evaluate hospitals. While there are challenges with using these ratings, they may be helpful for patients, especially those preparing for an elective procedure.

Experienced journalists have seen numerous stories examining the differing methodologies and motives of the groups that produce hospital ratings. Many journalists have written on this topic already. It’s important to make sure your readers understand how much marketing may be involved with reports they see about hospitals getting top marks.

The existence of hospital ratings is likely old news for many of us. But many of the people we serve may not know about them or not know what to do with the data they provide.

“Stories that are written about websites like Leapfrog Group can be a beneficial source of information,” Christine Smith of Rockville, Maryland said in an email to AHCJ.

Smith told me she thought Medstar Georgetown University Hospital was a top-rated center due in part to the statements on its website and its affiliation with a prestigious academic institution. During our conversation, I told her I would look at the ratings CMS had posted for Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. On Medicare.gov’s comparison page, the hospital earned two of five possible stars, as seen in the screenshot below.

But there are hospitals in neighboring Maryland and Virginia that earned four-star and five-star ratings. (If you are curious which hospitals got these more impressive marks, you can search here.) The same holds true in the latest rankings from The Leapfrog Group.

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As consumers see more hospital ‘report cards,’ reporters can explain their limitations

About Joanne Kenen

Contributing editor to Politico Magazine and former health care editor-at-large, Politico, Commonwealth Fund journalist in residence and assistant lecturer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

At Health Journalism 2012, Harvard’s Ashish K. Jha, M.D., M.P.H.,  told attendees to  watch for new hospital report cards from The Leapfrog Group that were going to be both comprehensive and consumer-friendly. Jha and some other top health quality/safety people were among the project’s advisers.

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People can understand letter grades – A through F. The idea is that a comprehensive approach – an overall grade – is more useful in the sense that, if a hospital gives fabulous and safe cardiac care, it doesn’t mean that a patient won’t get an avoidable infection during, say, a routine hernia operation or have a cesarean section that wasn’t unambiguously necessary.

Well, it turns out that the ratings aren’t just a tool in the whole consumer/quality movement. Some of the links at the end of this post can tell you more about the limits of these proprietary report cards versus public data – but consumers are seeing more and more of these “report cards” and you can use them for stories too. Continue reading