Many people take pride in being an educated consumer. The average American spends 40 hours searching for their dream home and 10 hours looking for their perfect vehicle. When it comes to something much more serious, such as your health, how much time do you spend researching which local hospitals provide the highest quality of care?
For over a decade, Health Grades, the leading independent health care rating organization, has compared performance for nearly all of the 5,000 hospitals across the United States (HealthGrades.com). They analyzed approximately 40 million Medicare patients last year and looked specifically at mortality rates and complication rates among patients. They rate care on a 5-star system, with one star representing “poor” care and five stars as “best.”
“It’s hard sometimes for consumers to analyze for themselves how hospitals compare,” Mike Burke, director of Marketing and Public Relations at Sacred Heart Hospital, told the IN. “This is one area where the ratings are based on outcomes, not reputation or what services you have. It’s an independent organization looking at some pretty hard data.”
Health Grades operates on three principal components. Their first aim is to accurately predict outcomes at hospitals across the country by purchasing hospital data and analyzing it for trends. The second goal is to produce this data for the general public in such a way that it is easy to interpret and understand. Their last component is to act as a consulting firm that aids hospitals that are operating under the 5-star level and helps guide them in the direction of improving their scores and ultimately quality of care provided.
Dr. Michael Brown, vice president of Medical Affairs at Sacred Heart, explained that Sacred Heart purchases the consulting services of Health Grades and their teams meet on a monthly basis to assess how the hospital is doing and where they can improve.
According to the Health Grades website, you have a more than 72 percent lower risk of dying in the best versus the worst hospitals. Approximately 55.91 percent of the potentially preventable deaths were associated with just four diagnoses: Sepsis, Pneumonia, Respiratory Failure, and Heart Failure. Sacred Heart Hospital scored a “5” in all categories, while West Florida Hospital and Baptist Hospital scored “5” in only Sepsis and Heart Failure, respectively.
If all hospitals in the country performed at the level of a 5-star rated hospital, 232,442 Medicare lives could potentially have been saved from 2007 through 2009. The information provided by Health Grades is also critical to patient survival once the patient leaves hospital care. A typical patient had, on average, a 57.08 percent lower risk of dying 30 days following their hospitalization if they were treated at a facility that was rated “5-stars” for their in-hospital performance.
In February, Health Grades presented its Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence to leaders at Sacred Heart Hospital for ranking among the top 5 percent of all hospitals in the United States. The independent study showed that this group of top hospitals had a mortality rate almost 30 percent lower than all other hospitals.
One area of particular focus for Sacred Heart has been improving and maintaining the high quality of care provided in their Stroke Center. “Regarding stroke, we’re given a template of the things you need to achieve to get to the ‘5’ star. Over the course of the past couple of years, we’ve been able to reach those and fortunately maintain it,” explained Dr. Terry Neill, medical director of Sacred Heart’s Stroke Center. “What it comes down to is once you have that template, to continue to keep it up, not just do it for one year and stop.”
Sacred Hearts’ medical teams use the Health Grades to develop workable goals and improve systems. In the Stroke Center, the medical team meets regularly to examine all the cases in which complications developed and the patient died. “They look at every single case, and if things didn’t work out for some reason, they are all looking at the processes, the training that nurses get, how quickly did a CT scan get done in the emergency department, and how quickly did the radiologists report their results back to the doctors in ER,” said Burke. “It’s a big team involved and some of the improvements have been based upon these teams meeting regularly, talking to each other, and focusing on how they can get better, and it has worked over time.”
Burke believes Health Grades ratings adequately represent the care provided at Sacred Heart. “The study and the ratings really mean something; it’s not just about the hospital’s reputation,” said Burke. “It’s about the actual outcomes of people’s survival of procedures and complications that could have resulted.”
Pointing out that Sacred Heart moved from three stars to five stars in eight categories, Burke said, “We’re proud of the scores and think they are meaningful.”
There are medical emergencies that require immediate attention and do not afford one the luxury of stopping to research online which hospital may be best suited for the patient’s condition. However, for the millions of Americans who suffer from a chronic illness or condition that requires routine care, it would be beneficial to educate themselves now as to where their needs may be best served. If you put significant time into researching which bank to take your money to for a home or auto loan, shouldn’t you invest some amount of time into where you bring your health-related issues?