Hospital report cards ultimately hurt patients

Although some hospitals have long rebuked the best-of lists, a new study finds that hospital report cards and ratings can be harmful to consumers in the long run, according to researchers at the New York University Stern School of Business, the London School of Economics and Centro Estudios Monetarios y Financieros.

While ratings are seemingly helpful, rankings--whether for business schools or healthcare--can create a distortion in the marketplace, the study authors warned.

"Institutions have been shown to allocate resources to the areas on which the rankings focus, even if their customer might have been better served by allocating those resources differently," according to a Thursday research announcement.

For example, if a hospital gains a favorable rating for attractive hospital rooms, hospitals might be more inclined to dedicate resources to renovations rather than, say, increasing the number of nurses.

"If patients now choose hospitals based on an online database that grades the facilities on a certain number of set criteria, hospitals are more likely to focus their efforts on these areas to the exclusion of others, and potentially to the detriment of patient welfare," the announcement states.

The study points out one the downfalls of any rating system--that organizations will try to "game the system," playing up certain measures rather than focusing on overall quality.

As Jason A. Wolf, executive director of The Beryl Institute and Hospital Impact blogger noted in a previous post regarding one such rating system, "I do not believe HCAHPS scores are the reason healthcare organizations should act, though I acknowledge they have provided a great incentive for focused efforts in the area of experience." He added, "patient experience is a much greater strategic commitment than just working to score well on any survey."

For more information:
- read the research announcement
- see the study abstract

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