What do we make of hospital rankings?
A Colorado company, HealthGrades, Inc., is issuing rankings for hospitals on a number of basic procedures. According to the company and the accompanying publicity, a patient is "70% more likely to die in the hospital" if he or she undergoes a procedure in a one star hospital, rather than a five star hospital. We took a look at some of the local rankings and some are consistent with what we have heard and seen. In other cases, however, the rankings are inexplicable and we wonder if they are distorted by rural populations with low sample numbers or other demographics.
For example, Munson Hospital's valve replacement success rate is as excellent as we have heard--at least for 30 days. After that time, however, it returns to the "norm", unlike William Beaumont in Troy, Spectrum in Grand Rapids and a handful of other hospitals. The University of Michigan, however, is never graded out as "excellent".
To further test your faith in the numbers, the only exceptional hospital for treating "heart attack" in northern Michigan is Grayling Mercy--despite the fact that it does not offer a full range of cardiac interventions. Are patients likely to succumb to major complications stabilized at Mercy and transferred before things go down the tube? Or is this little hospital really better at immediate intake and treatment?
Another interesting finding: Munson experiences more major complications in back and neck surgery than does Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey. The University of Michigan has an unacceptable level of major complications according to the numbers. Are these surgeons taking more complicated cases, or are they and the staff handling the cases they do take less well? The website claims the data takes into account the relative health of patients. Does it account for other socio-economic factors? We have seen the data, reported elsewhere on this site, demonstrating the huge positive impact health insurance has on life expectancy issues.
Sadly, we doubt if we consumers can decipher the truth from these numbers. It would be interesting to carry them into interviews with the particular physicians and see what they say. The website is www.healthgrades.com. If you have time, check the site and ask the referring doctors and surgeons for an explanation, if they don't refer you to the "best" location.