Healthgrades: 1 in 6 patients receive care at 1-star hospitals

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One out of every six patients in the United States received care at a 1-star hospital and faced a greater chance of complications and death, according to new research released by Healthgrades, an online resource that publishes comprehensive information about hospitals and physicians.

The report compares patient outcomes based on the care they received from 1-star hospitals--those with the higher risk-adjusted complication and mortality rates--against 3- and 5-star hospitals in regions throughout the country. The result: There is significant variation in health outcomes in hospitals throughout the country.

Indeed, researchers say that if patients took the time to research the best local doctors and hospitals for their particular condition or procedure, they would have had a 71 percent lower risk of dying and 65 percent lower risk of a complication during their stay.

"There are wide disparities at 1-star versus 5-star hospitals," Evan Marks, pictured, chief strategy officer for Healthgrades, told FierceHealthcare in an interview. And 5-star hospitals don't provide 5-star service for every procedure, he noted.

"Hospitals that have great reputations have those reputations for certain things and not others. They are not five stars in everything so consumers should consider going to a different facility when there is an option," he said.

For example, the report noted that 14 hospitals in the Chicago region earned 5-star ratings for the care the provide to heart attack patients, which means they outperformed the risk-adjust mortality expectations for the hospital's patient population. However, only three of those 14 hospitals performed significantly better for total knee replacement. And eight of the 14 hospitals performed at a 1-star rating for total knee replacement.

Consumers, Marks said, often rely on word of mouth to find a doctor, and if they like that physician, they will often go to the facility that the doctor recommends. A better approach for patients, according to researchers, is to find the facility first--and then look there for the specialist--in order to receive the best possible outcomes. Consumers should look at highly-rated organizations based on the number of procedures they perform, patient experience and outcomes, according to Marks. 

However, Marks said that hospitals and consumers must understand that a 3-star hospital doesn't mean the organization provides C-level care. Instead, they are performing as expected. Those organizations, he said, are good alternatives if patients don't have access to the 5-star hospitals.

"What consumers should avoid is a hospital that is performing worse than expected, where the risk of mortality is higher than expected," he said.

The problem, however, is that consumers are often confused by hospital rating systems, which often conflict, a study by Health Affairs concluded earlier this year. Researchers assessed the quality rankings published by U.S. News & World Report, Healthgrades, the Leapfrog Group and Consumer Reports. They found no hospitals were ranked as high performers by all four systems. And those given high scores by one system were considered low performers by another. But the organizations that ranked the hospitals said that the differences in rankings are due to the fact that they assess different measures.

To learn more:
- here's the study announcement
- read the study

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