The score patients assign their hospitals according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' star-rating system appear to correspond with the quality of the hospitals' patient outcomes, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers analyzed more than 3,000 hospitals' CMS patient-experience ratings in October 2015 as compared to their data on deaths and readmissions related to heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia Of the hospitals, 125 had five-star ratings, 806 had four stars, more than 1,400 had three stars, 623 had two stars and 76 had one.
Within the study period, hospitals' star ratings were inversely proportional to their rates of death within a month of discharge. For example, five-star providers had average post-discharge mortality rates of 9.8 percent, compared to 11.2 percent for one-star hospitals.
Five-star hospitals also had lower readmission rates, averaging rates under 20 percent, while one-, two-, three- and four-star providers all readmitted at least 20 percent. Researchers noted the analysis only included Medicare patients, potentially limiting the data's applicability, and that the difference in care quality between two-, three- and four-star hospitals was negligible.
"If you use the star rating you're more likely to end up at a high-quality hospital," co-author Ashish K. Jha, M.D., of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health told Reuters. "But I wouldn't use only the star rating to choose a hospital."
Experts have long questioned the broader reliability of patient satisfaction scores, arguing that while they are an important aspect of care, providing incentives can lead hospitals to prioritize comfort over outcomes. This research comes the same week a bipartisan group of senators called on CMS to delay the release of star ratings for care quality until it could clarify its methodology.