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New Hospital Rating System

American Medical News reported late last month on a new hospital rating system created by an “employer-backed” organization known at the Leapfrog Group. The idea is to simplify the current hospital rating process to make it easier for patients to make informed choices to ensure they do not suffer a preventable error. Our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys understand the importance of providing patients with clear, informative, and accurate information about various hospital safety measures.

The story explains how the new system will include straightforward “school” grades of A, B, C, D or F on various patient safety metrics. Twenty six different measures will be analyzed based on information available of current public databases. The information is available online at the “Hospital Safety Score” website.

It is very important to understand the manner in which these grades are compiled to ensure that the data is presented in a fair way. So far over 2,600 hospital have been graded. Of that group about 53% received an A or B summary grade. 40% received C. The remaining 5% received the lowest grades–D or F–but those grades are currently listed as “pending” because the facility is given a few months to “improve” the grade. Importantly, the database does not include grades on government hospitals, specialty hospitals, or critical care centers.

Past research has shown that these sorts of patient safety scorecards have not had as big an impact on care decisions. A big part of the problem, say experts, is the confusing and not all that helpful information provided. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services Hospital Compare website simply lists most hospitals as “average” and does not have composite scores. Presenting the data in better way may go a long way to ensuring that patients are able to use the information to actually make decisions to avoid the most dangerous locations.

In addition, if patient choices are more strongly correlated with safety, doctors and hospital administrators may finally be spurred to enact vital changes to actually improve patient safety. One medical safety expert involved in the new hospital system reminded that “Physicians have a fiduciary responsibility to patients to ensure safety, and they can be very powerful change agents.”

He noted that these facilities must always be striving to do better and not become complacent with current error rates. For that reasons there are built-in ranking changes for facilities that stagnate. For example, a facility with a C ranking will see their grade drop to a D or F if there is no improvement over a period of time.

Expectedly, the American Hospital Association criticized the new grades, claiming that they will “mislead” patients. However, it remains clear that providing patients more information to compare hospitals on various measures is a good thing. For too long these facilities have been able to hide behind high error rates simply because no consumer actually knew about the data.

Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm welcomes all new databases seeking to educate the public on patient safety efforts. Obviously, it is important that these tools be compiled accurately to ensure patients receive helpful information to help in their decision-making process. However, it should never be forgotten that errors and medical malpractice can occur anywhere, even at facilities scoring well on these metrics.

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