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Updated hospital data allows reporters to identify ongoing problems Date: 08/16/11

Open quote mark for pull quoteAfter several years, a surprising number of hospitals can't seem to improve
– and an elite group has been able to maintain its excellence.Close quote mark for pull quote

Pivot table showing worst-performing hospitalsBy Charles Ornstein

The release this month of federal data on hospital quality is a good reminder for reporters to give their local hospitals a checkup.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been reporting patient survival rates for hospitals across the United States for four years now and hospital readmission rates for three. While some journalists may have a been-there-done-that reaction to yet another round of data, the latest release has important information for your readers, viewers and listeners. After several years, a surprising number of hospitals can't seem to improve – and an elite group has been able to maintain their excellence.

The CMS data does not provide an overall rating for a hospital but rather tells you how well each does treating heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia. Hospitals are assessed based on the percentage of patients who die within 30 days of hospitalization and the percentage who require another hospital stay.

USA Today, using the data, wrote that some of hospitals with high patient satisfaction ratings fared poorly in keeping patients alive. "More than 120 hospitals given top marks by patients for providing excellent care also have a darker distinction: high death rates for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia, a USA Today analysis of new Medicare data has found," Steve Sternberg and Christopher Schnaars wrote.

AHCJ offers tools to analyze the data

Stories using this data

Readmission Rates Revealed for 292 Worst Hospitals, Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, Sept. 1, 2011

Barnes-Jewish faces cut in pay, Blythe Bernhard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 26, 2011

While Hospital Compare only allows people to look up three hospitals at a time, AHCJ has created Excel spreadsheets that combine information from all U.S. hospitals in one place. We also have useful tutorials on how to do basic computations in Excel to analyze the data. [Intro to investigating health data using spreadsheets | Finding patterns and trends in health data: Pivot tables in spreadsheets]

Using the tables on AHCJ's site, I examined which hospitals have consistently outperformed their peers and which hospitals have consistently rated among the worst in the nation for patient survival. What I found: 181 hospitals have performed better than expected on at least one survival measure for three years in a row and 123 have done worse. Some hospitals do better or worse on more than one measure.

To find out where the best and worst hospitals are, AHCJ members can click to read more.


Charles Ornstein is a senior reporter at ProPublica and president of AHCJ's board of directors.