Hospital rankings show bigger names don't necessarily do better

The nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine released ratings of 2,463 U.S. hospitals in all 50 states on Wednesday, based on the quality of surgical care. The effort proved that having a popular hospital brand doesn't mean the surgical care provided at a facility is the best.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center earned higher surgery ratings than the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Earlier in June, Johns Hopkins Hospital was back on top of the U.S. News & World Report annual best hospitals list, reclaiming the No. 1 spot it held from 1991 through 2011. In that rating, patient survival and safety data and nursing staffing levels play a large part.

Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and University Hospital Case Medical Center in Cleveland are two urban hospitals that excelled despite serving sicker, poorer patients. However, rural hospitals did better than urban hospitals in many cases. And as Consumer Reports pointed out, big-name hospitals don't always live up to their reputation: The Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin, Minn., got a low rating.

Surgery safety information, though submitted to national registries, is largely hidden from patients, according to Consumer Reports.

"Consumers have very little to go on when trying to select a hospital for surgery, not knowing which ones do a good job at keeping surgery patients safe and which ones don't," Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project, in an announcement about the ratings. "They might as well just throw a scalpel at a dartboard."

This is the first time the percentage of Medicare patients undergoing surgery who die in the hospital or stay longer than expected has been made public. Consumer Reports looked at 27 kinds of scheduled surgeries, and worked with healthcare consulting firm MPA to analyze medical claims and clinical records. Consumer Reports pointed out that surgery ratings are only one indication of a hospital's performance.

"There are a lot of dimensions to hospital quality, and no single measure captures everything," Peter Cram, M.D., director of general medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, said in the announcement.

To learn more:
- see the Consumer Reports ratings announcement

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Hospital rankings by U.S. News & World Report rely on reputation rather than quality, safety