CMS asks for feedback with release of Hospital Compare data—and the industry is already not pleased

Star ratings
CMS announced it's looking for feedback on how it can improve how it conducts its Hospital Compare rankings to make more direct "like-to-like" comparisons. (Getty/Natali_Mis)

The federal hospital ratings website Hospital Compare may be getting another revamp.

After several delays, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Thursday that it has released updated hospital performance data on the consumer comparison website that uses star ratings for hospitals, as well as on data.medicare.gov.

The data, collected through CMS’ Hospital Quality Initiative programs, includes specific quality measures, as well as the Overall Hospital Star Ratings. They were last updated in Dec. 2017.

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But CMS also announced it's looking for feedback on ways to improve how it conducts the rankings to make the data more "precise and consistent" and make more direct "like-to-like" comparisons.

RELATED: CMS again delays release of hospital star ratings

“These decision-making tools offer greater transparency on hospital performance for a wide variety of users—patients, caregivers, families, and the broader healthcare industry," said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement. "We constantly aim to improve these resources with feedback from stakeholders, and we are confident this latest update of Hospital Compare data further strengthens this data."

For example, CMS officials said, some hospitals have recommended placing hospitals with similar characteristics in "peer groups" rather than comparing small hospitals to all other hospitals.

CMS launched the website in 2005 to make it easier for consumers to search for a hospital based on quality. But while the website has been lauded by consumer advocates, it has faced sharp criticism from the industry, which claims it misleads patients and is prone to errors.

The industry responded swiftly on Thursday, criticizing CMS for releasing new data even before considering public comments on changes to their system.

RELATED: Study: Hospital ratings should give patients data based on what's most important to them

The American Hospital Association said it supports transparency on quality and safety, but said the methodology falls short and should have been changed before any more data was released.

"CMS’s approach to star ratings has been flawed from the outset," said AHA Executive Vice President Tom Nickels in a statement. "Today’s update has not addressed the major concerns about the methodology and usefulness of the star ratings. That is why the AHA asked CMS to postpone its publication until concerns about the methodology could be remedied. We appreciate that CMS continues to seek comment on changes, but would have preferred the agency had waited to release these ratings until a more reliable methodology is in place."

America's Essential Hospitals echoed their sentiments.

"We find it unfortunate that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) decided to publish hospital star ratings today even as the agency proposed changes that recognize ongoing flaws in the ratings methodology," said Bruce Siegel, M.D., president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. "Those flaws contribute to ratings that mislead consumers and disadvantage hospitals that care for vulnerable patients, rather than reflect true hospital performance and improvement. The ratings also fail to account for social risk factors beyond a hospital’s control and that affect performance."

The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed changes through March 29. 

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