Consumer Reports dives into healthcare ratings

Consumer Reports magazine announced it's getting into the growing business of publishing public ratings of hospitals and private physicians.

It's only the latest move in the trend toward improving consumer information online amid growing public and political pressure for transparency.

Meanwhile, it will likely be part of another trend, as well--that of hospitals and physicians criticizing hospital and physician ranking sites. 

The magazine rated safety at 1,159 hospitals in 44 states on a 100-point scale based on publicly available data. Only 158 hospitals scored 60 or higher. The best-performing hospital, 272-bed Billings Clinic in Billings, Mont., scored 72 points.

The middling results echo those of a Leapfrog Group hospital scorecard released last month. Even hospitals with good reputations didn't fare well in that report, which gave hospitals letter grades. Baldridge Award winner Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and the Cleveland Clinic's main campus (and most of its hospitals) scored Cs, for example, as FierceHealthcare reported.

The Leapfrog report card used 26 measures, including falls and trauma, central line-associated bloodstream infections, severe pressure ulcers, foreign objects left in surgical patients, as well as safety protocols such as hand hygiene policies.

The American Hospital Association said many of the measures Leapfrog uses to grade hospitals are flawed and do not accurately portray the industry's efforts to improve safety. 

Hospital ratings on the Internet or in magazines such as U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Hospitals" and HealthGrades' "Best Hospitals" have come under fire from the healthcare industry, with critics calling them misleading and incomplete.

Meanwhile, the magazine joins more than 50 websites that rate physicians--a trend that makes providers cringe, according to The Washington Post.

The Consumer Reports hospital ratings are based on MRI scanning rates, 30-day readmission rates as posted on CMS's Hospital Compare site and patient viewpoints from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS ) survey. 

Physicians are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 on communication, coordination of care, getting to know patients, timeliness of appointments, care and information, and working with office staff.

The publication said it plans to expand physician ratings to Minnesota, focusing on quality of care, and Wisconsin, zeroing in on preventive care.

Research from University of Maryland School of Business has found that doctor ratings, even from anonymous posters, tends to be positive, suggesting that online ratings pose less threat to providers' reputations than previously thought, according to the Post.

Negative reviews tend to air frustrations with difficulty in getting appointments or rude staff, not issues with the physician's abilities, other studies have found.

FiercePracticeManagement recently made a case for embracing online physician rankings and reviews--in fact, even encouraging them and making it easier for patients to write them.

To learn more:
- read the Consumer Reports announcement
- check out the ratings site (subscription required)
- check out Hospital Compare
- download the Massachusetts physician ratings
- read the Washington Post story
- here's the AAFP post