For the first time, Consumer Reports rated U.S. hospitals for safety, combining six key measures into one composite Rating. Overall, Consumer Reports rated 1,159 hospitals in 44 states.
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). Some highlights:
• Overall Safety Performance: 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.
• Deadly Infections: About one in 20 hospitalized patients will develop an infection that can be devastating, deadly even. Many can be prevented. Of the hospitals rated by Consumer Reports, 202 hospitals reported infections at rates higher than the national benchmark, and only 148 reported zero infections.
• Radiation Overload: CT scans can provide essential diagnostic information. But they pose risks, too. Radiation from CT scans — which are equivalent to between 100 and 500 chest X-rays — might contribute to an estimated 29,000 future cancers a year, a 2009 study suggests. Consumer Reports’ Ratings report on the percentage of chest and abdominal CT scans included those that are ordered twice for the same patient, once with contrast, and once without. According to one doctor interviewed for the report, probably less than 1 percent of patients undergoing chest CT scans should get double scans.
• Readmissions: Research suggests that up to three-quarters of readmissions may be preventable. Consumer Reports includes readmissions in its safety composite score in part because the more often a patient enters a hospital, the greater the chance something will go wrong. No hospital earned Consumer Reports’ highest score for readmissions. 166 hospitals received Consumer Reports’ lowest score.
• Communication: For communication about new medications and discharge plans, again, no hospital earned Consumer Reports’ top score while almost 500 hospitals earned its lowest score. The communication scores are based on questions answered by millions of discharged patients in a federally mandated survey.
• Some Well-Known Hospitals With Less Than Outstanding Scores: 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 (Cleveland), 39; NewYork-Presbyterian (New York), 32; and Mount Sinai Medical Center (New York), 30. However, Consumer Reports’ 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.
• Medical Harm — “Probably One Of Three Leading Causes of Death”: Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, told Consumer Reports: “Medical harm is probably one of the three leading causes of death in the U.S., but the government doesn’t adequately track it as it does deaths from automobiles, plane crashes and cancer. It’s appalling.”
The Consumer Reports 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. It 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.