Hospital quality varies widely across the country, Healthgrades analysis finds

digitized stars
Hospitals that Healthgrades ranked in the top 50 fared better on mortality and complication rates for several common conditions.

Organizations rated highly by the firm Healthgrades fare better on mortality and complication rates for several common conditions, according to a new analysis, and quality varies widely across the country. 

The group's annual Report to the Nation (PDF) examined the quality performance of close to 4,500 short-term acute care hospitals across the country. The top hospitals have better clinical outcomes for at least 21 of the 32 measures that Healthgrades analyzes, including sepsis, stroke, heart attack, heart failure and respiratory failure, and sustained those better outcomes for three or more years. 

Patients treated for pancreatitis at a hospital that received five stars from Healthgrades between 2014 and 2016 in treating that condition was 93% less likely to die than a patient at a hospital with a one-star rating for that condition. If all hospitals improved their performance to meet those with five-star ratings, on average more than 164,000 complications could be avoided and more than 219,000 lives could be saved, according to the report.

Patients are also far more likely to face complications after surgery in hospitals with a one-star rating than those with a five-star rating, according to the analysis.

"For patients and providers, data about hospital quality are more than just numbers on a sheet," the report notes. "They represent real stakes, real outcomes and real people for whom hospital quality may be a matter of life and death."

RELATED: Analysts say hospital rankings, including CMS' star system, confusing at best, misleading at worst 

Though rankings like Healthgrades' list, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' star ratings, are controversial among providers, Brad Bowman, M.D., Healthgrades' chief medical officer, said it's key that patients have access to crucial health data, especially as hospitals even in close proximity to one another can vary widely in care quality. 

"We observed that communities are healthier when they have access to high-quality hospitals, so while many consumers only think about their local hospitals in times of emergencies, there really is long-term benefit to the health of the population when access to top-notch hospitals is high," Bowman said in an announcement

RELATED: Patients' hospital ratings may predict care quality 

The Report to the Nation also includes Healthgrades' first National Health Index, which ranks the 25 cities that are "leading the way for healthcare." Each city was scored on care access, quality of hospitals, risky behaviors in the patient population and population health initiatives. 

The top cities in the report are: 

  1. Twin Cities, Minnesota
  2. Denver, Colorado
  3. Sacramento, California
  4. Cincinnati, Ohio
  5. Portland, Oregon 

Of the four elements of the score, the population health portion accounts for nearly half (40.8%) of the final score. The report, according to Healthgrades, offers solutions for how community health workers can better engage patients in their communities.

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