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Stop Ignoring Low Quality Ratings

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 6, 2012

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

For many hospitals, it's bound to happen at some point, if it hasn't already. In an avalanche of public quality scorecards, there will be at least one that reveals—in vivid detail—how your hospital's quality or safety score is "worse than" those at other hospitals. 

Or a competitor across town will show up as "better than," leaving your doctors, staff, trustees, and donors, not to mention patients, all asking why you don't measure up. A reporter will seize the data, and the news will be on a front page.

Expect another data update on Hospital Compare this month, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plans to launch a much more extensive, consumer-friendly comparative display, followed by another wave of media reports on who's the worst.

"I think few hospitals will not have something that doesn't look good on their report card," says John Lynch, MD, chief medical officer with the 1,270-licensed-bed Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

"There may be some straight A students out there, but because the breadth of the type of things they're reporting on, probably everybody—many, many of your CEOs and other hospital leaders—are going to face this issue."

CMS now publicly posts hospital-specific results for 84 measures, with more expected in the next two years. Along with each measure, the public can download spreadsheets showing data for each hospital all in one file; one can see who's better or worse even within a region, state, county, or ZIP code.

These rating systems alert employers, community leaders, and health plans, for example, whether your patients got the right antibiotic at the right time, how long the hospital made patients wait in the ED, and the rate of central line bloodstream infections, or numbers of foreign objects left inside body cavities during surgery. Even the hospital's cost for an episode of care is held up for public view.

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