Rating the ratings

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 - Candace Stuart - Headshot
Candace Stuart, Editor

I have consulted Consumer Reports before buying a car for decades, with satisfactory results. Does that mean I would use their rating on hospitals if I were a patient planning a scheduled surgery? I don’t think so.

The September issue of Consumer Reports includes a section that rates more than 2,000 hospitals in the U.S. for surgical procedures. The score is based on 27 procedures, including coronary angioplasty and carotid artery surgery, based on mortality rates and length of stay. They chose those measures as a marker of quality. In a breakout analysis, Consumer Reports separately listed the top and bottom performers for knee, hip, back, carotid artery surgeries and angioplasty.

A hospital that rates in the top tier for one procedure might sit near the bottom for another. Case in point is St. Francis Hospital, in Roslyn, N.Y., which made the top five for angioplasty and the bottom six for carotid artery surgery.

Is the composite score reflective of all surgeries? It would appear not to be the case. While Consumer Reports shares its methodology, and makes a point of saying that it is not perfect, it is possible that unmeasured factors could tilt a rating one direction or the other.

What Consumer Reports does have in its favor is familiarity. Those of us who have added up the red circles and black half-moons before kicking the tires, so to speak, quickly understand the information conveyed. Hospital Compare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ public website, seems fragmented and foreign by comparison, although its designers have worked to make it patient friendly.

Accurately conveying data, especially complex data, to the public is a challenge. Despite noble efforts, neither resource seems to meet patients’ needs, at least easily.

I am looking at this from the patient’s point of view. From the perspective of a hospital or physician, do popular ratings and sites such as Hospital Compare help, hurt or have no effect on patient education and care? Do they make more work for you, or less? Please share your thoughts.

Candace Stuart

Cardiovascular Business, editor