Behind the numbers: Best hospital list released, skepticism ensues

U.S. News World Report today released its "Best Hospitals" list for 2011-2012 but may face the usual skeptics of such quality lists.

Many of the best hospitals on the list were concentrated in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Philadelphia. The list included leading hospitals, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston; Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; and Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic, among others.

Now in its 22nd year, the list used data from nearly 5,000 hospitals and 10,000 specialists, including mostly federal data, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The report selected 140 hospitals based on patient survival, patient safety, and other care factors such as nursing and patient services, and--perhaps controversially--reputation.

"In the rankings based only on reputation, hospitals were listed on the basis of responses to the most recent three years of physician surveys," according to its methodology explanation.

Reputation accounted for 32.5 percent of the hospital's score, just as much as the patient survival factor. Patient safety accounted for 5 percent of the score, and other care-related indicators, such as nursing staffing and technology, accounted for 30 percent.

A recent study in the Archives of Surgery indicated that hospital rankings are often misleading and incomplete. Ratings of surgical quality, such as those by U.S. News & World Report and HealthGrades, fail to identify other high-volume hospitals of equal quality, study authors concluded.

U.S. News & World Report encourages readers to gather their own research in addition to the list. "Be sure to add your own fact-gathering to ours; no hospital is best for every patient."

To learn more:
- here is the list of best hospitals by specialty
- here is the list of best hospitals by region
- here is the honor roll list
- read about the methodology of the specialty list
- read about the methodology of regional list
- read about the best hospital terminology