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A new tool with which to compare hospital quality of care

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has finally responded to requests for data that would allow consumers to compare the effectiveness of hospitals.  Using data collected on heart attack patients, heart failure patients and pneumonia death rates, the Centers have composed a very sophisticated analysis that allows for comparison of the performance of hospitals.  Experts agree that performance in these three classes of patient offers a valid and reliable estimate of a hospital's over-all quality.  The data is reported on the USAToday website (  Parenthetically, Munson Medical Center's statistics appear to be better than the statistics for Northern Michigan Hospital, commercials be damned.

The new figures can also be found on a governmental website,  Medicare and Medicaid originally proposed to release quality of care statistics more than a decade ago, however, they were stopped in their tracks by the hospital industry.  In response, the authors worked with experts such as Leapfrog (an industry consortium including Intel, Boeing, Marriott and others) and the National Quality Forum to devise a complex statistical formula that treats all hospitals fairly and can be relied upon to compare institutions. 

Lisa Iezzoni, Associate Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Policy, says that consumers can rely upon these numbers to increase pressure for improvements in quality of treatment.  USAToday also pointed to several examples of hospital administrators using the statistics to uncover problems in their own care.  One hospital allowed EMTs to administer EKGs to suspected heart attack victims; care was further improved, though, when an elevator was placed on hold to deliver an incoming heart attack  patient upstairs to the cardiac catheterization lab without delay.  Another hospital identified a problem in discharging heart failure patients to the community: an inordinate number were dying within 30 days, apparently due to inadequate discharge instruction and follow-up.  Yet another hospital streamlined pneumonia care by allowing triage nurses to order chest x-rays in appropriate cases.

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