And Hospital Compare is only one set of data out there. The Leapfrog Group in June announced its Hospital Safety Score, in which it grades hospitals from A to F on patient safety efforts. In the first round, 132 hospitals didn't pass and 1,111 got a mere C. An update is due
Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists and an investigative healthcare reporter with ProPublica, says hospital executives should get used to heightened attention. The AHCJ is beefing up efforts to educate reporters on how to find and interpret quality statistics about healthcare providers, where to see inspection reports, and how to compare patient experience, readmission, and mortality rates.
"More reporters are realizing the treasure trove of information they can find," he says. "For decades, hospitals fought to keep this information out of the public domain. But now that it is public, we as journalists have an obligation to make it relevant."
Patients don't usually look up quality data before choosing a hospital, acknowledges James Conway, senior vice president for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement through 2011, but they do look at newspapers. And there are significant efforts under way to educate the public on how to use these measures, and forces are aligning to do that, from Consumer Reports to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to the Commonwealth Fund's "Why Not The Best" website to the Informed Patient Institute.
So what should a hospital chief executive do when that dreaded call comes? Barnes-Jewish is one hospital that went through that experience with two negative front-page headlines in 2010 and 2011 centering on its "worse than other hospitals" 30-day readmission rates in all three disease categories. In grappling with a headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last August that shouted, "Barnes-Jewish faces cut in pay," and the organization has learned some lessons in the process.