Consumer Reports rates safest hospitals

by | Aug 31, 2012

For the first time, Consumer Reports has rated U.S. hospitals for safety, combining six key measures into one composite Rating. Overall, Consumer Reports rates 1,159 hospitals in 44 states in four special regional editions of its August issue and online at

The safety score gives consumers a way to compare hospitals on patient safety. The six categories that comprise the safety score are: infections, readmissions, overuse of scanning, communication about new medications and discharge, complications, and mortality. Infections, surgical mistakes, and other medical harm contribute to the deaths of 180,000 hospital patients a year, according to projections based on a 2010 report by the Department of Health and Human Services. And that figure only applies to Medicare patients.

More than half (51 percent) of the hospitals rated by Consumer Reports received a score below 50 (on a scale of 1-100). “The safety scores provide a window into our nation’s hospitals, exposing worrisome risks that are mostly preventable,” said John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “A consumer who enters a hospital thinking it’s a place to get better deserves to know if that is indeed the case.” Some highlights:

Even the highest scoring hospitals have room for improvement. Billings Clinic in Montana was at the top of Consumer Reports’ list, but it got a safety score of just 72. As noted above, 51 percent of hospitals rated by Consumer Reports earned scores below 50 on a scale of 1-100.

The report rates hospitals on deadly infections, radiation overload, readmissions, and communication and overall safety performance.

Many hospitals that are well known perform poorly against Consumer Reports’ new safety score, including Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, with a safety score of 45; Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, 43; Cleveland Clinic, 39; New York Presbyterian, New York, 32; and Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, 30. However, CR’s safety Ratings do not assess how successful hospitals are at treating medical conditions and are not the only source that should be used to measure hospital safety and quality. The magazine report suggests other sources a consumer can investigate.

The CR safety score does not look comprehensively at all medical errors. As noted above, the Consumer Reports Hospital Ratings are derived from several government and independent sources. Consumer Reports used the most current data available at the time of its analysis, supplementing its Ratings by interviewing patients, physicians, hospital administrators and safety experts. The Ratings include only 18 percent of U.S. hospitals because data on patient safety still isn’t reported fully and consistently nationwide.

For example, only some states (far from all) require that hospitals report data for surgical-site infections, central-line infections, or both. And some hospitals voluntarily report central-line infection data to the Leapfrog Group. As a result, Consumer Reports cannot provide a safety score on every hospital. “The fact that consumers can’t get a full picture of most hospitals in the U.S. underscores the need for more public reporting,” said Dr. Santa.

The report outlines steps the government should take to fix the system, including the implementation of a national system for tracking and publicly reporting medical errors, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine more than 10 years ago. “The public assumes that someone keeps track of all that goes wrong, but that is just not the case,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. Visit here for the article.

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