Keckley: Hospital report cards will evolve with healthcare consolidation

Despite recent questions about the reliability of major hospital ranking systems, the report cards remain relevant in the wake of healthcare industry changes, argues policy expert Paul Keckley.

Last week, a study published in Health Affairs found the hospital ranking systems used by U.S. News & World Report, Healthgrades, the Leapfrog Group and Consumer Reports, often contradict one another, with no hospitals assessed as high performers by all four systems between mid-2012 and mid-2013. The organizations say the variations are due to the fact they assess different measures but researchers believe that the conflicting results may confuse patients. 

But Keckley, managing director of the Navigant Center for Healthcare Research and Policy Analysis, says the hospital report cards still serve a vital purpose.

First, he writes, rating methodologies have become more reliable as the four major players in hospital rankings remain under increasing pressure to demonstrate their ratings' accuracy. Rankings have heavily relied on Medicare data in the past, he says, but now the organizations must draw from individual, employer, Medicaid and private payer data.

Furthermore, as more hospitals consolidate and become health systems, the stakes will become higher, according to Keckley. "[H]ospital report cards today are based on data that's verifiable from third party sources, but they're more useful in support of advertising efforts to enhance the hospital's reputation than to position the health system and its affiliates to compete and perform in the value-based purchasing world ahead," he writes. 

As a result, he projects that the report card concept will persist but assessments of entire systems will replace the report cards. These "scoreboards," Keckley writes, will encompass various aspects of the system, including outpatient and acute care services, pharmaceutical services and, in some cases, the system's insurance plan. These assessments will fuel systems' attempts to attract partners and consumers, and secure growth capital.

To learn more:
- read Keckley's column