Plethora of hospital ratings confusing, 'flawed'

Different hospital rating systems often end up with wildly varying assessments of hospital quality, leaving consumers confused and calling into question the value of such ratings, Kaiser Health News and The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this week.

The article cited St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital in Michigan, which received an "A" from the Leapfrog Group and is deemed one of America's 50 best hospitals by Healthgrades.

But the hospital failed to make The Joint Commission or U.S. News & World Report best hospital lists, and Consumer Reports gave it an average safety score of 47 out of 100 points. Its Medicare payments also are being reduced slightly this year because of quality issues, the article noted.

One-third of U.S. hospitals were lauded by at least one major rating group or company, KHN found. In some markets, such as Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Baltimore, nearly every hospital won a quality award.

The ratings are "all justifiable efforts to provide information, but at the end of the day every single one of them is flawed in some respect," Jerod Loeb, executive vice president for health care quality evaluation at the Joint Commission, is quoted as saying. "Rather than enlightening, we may be confusing."

In a preview of its May issue,Consumer Reports released its hospital safety ratings, evaluating 2,031 hospitals for safety based on readmissions, complications, communication, the overuse of CT scans and infection rates. Nearly two-thirds of the nation's 258 teaching hospitals scored below the average grade of 49.

"The advantage of a ranking is that it's easier for patients to understand than individual measures and it provides a general picture of the quality of care at the hospital," Matt Austin, PhD, an instructor at the Johns Hopkins' Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, told Everyday Health.

But the rankings also can "mask excellent or poor performance in individual care areas," Austin said. "You are sort of rolling everything up together into an overall ranking or score and not separating how a hospital is doing in individual areas."

The KHN/Philadelphia Inquirer article came on the same day as a report by the Catalyst for Payment Reform giving 29 states failing grades for their healthcare price transparency law, and D grades for another seven states. Only two states received As.

To learn more:
- read the KHN/Philadelphia Inquirer article
- check out the Consumer Reports preview
- here's the Everyday Health story