Hospital ratings may miss high performers: study

Thu May 19, 2011 8:56am EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Looking for hospital ratings on the Internet or in magazines may not serve patients' best interests, with so-called "50 Best Hospitals" not necessarily any better than other medical institutions, a study said.

The study, published in the Archives of Surgery, looked at Internet-based HealthGrades and U.S. News & World Report, both of whose ratings it said are used by millions.

It showed that for three types of cancer surgery, "America's 50 Best Hospitals" as ranked by HealthGrades are no better than other hospitals once the number of patients they treat are taken into account.

Based on the U.S. News & World Report ratings, the top 50 hospitals trumped the rest on just one of the surgeries -- removal of the colon or part of it.

"Our findings show that both ratings fail to identify equally well-performing hospitals of similar volume," wrote Nicholas Osborne, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues.

"Because these ratings list only a selected number of best hospitals, these consumer aids may dissuade patients from seeking care at closer high-volume, equal-quality hospitals."

The study examined how many patients died within 30 days of cancer surgery, comparing the top-50 hospitals from the two ratings to other hospitals across the nation.

The researchers made sure to adjust for differences between patients, including income and sickness. Their analysis is based on Medicare data -- limiting it to people over 65 -- and they didn't look at other important outcomes, such as complications and cost.

At first glance, U.S. News & World Report's best hospitals led the pack on all three surgeries, cutting the risk of death by between 31 and 58 percent.   Continued...