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Choosing the Right Hospital: Safety Rankings and How They Factor

Written July 26, 2017

We’d like to think all hospitals are created equal. We’d like to believe that each and every one provides the same level of quality care and preventative safety measures. We’d like to trust they have the same priorities.

But we’d be wrong. Hospitals vary wildly in their safety practices, care, and devotion to protecting patients. When selecting a hospital for you or a loved one, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Whether it’s a healthcare-associated infection (HAI), medical error, accident, or injury, far too many people end up worse after entering a hospital than they were when they got there.

The statistics can be more than a little frightening:

  1. As many as 100,000 people die annually from healthcare-associated infections (HAI) and related complications.
  2. Up to 440,000 people die annually from either HAIs, errors, injuries, or accidents that happen while in a US hospital.
  3. Medicare patients have a one in four chance – a full 25% – of injury, harm, or even death while staying in a hospital.

We research when selecting a new car, a new laptop or smartphone, where to go for vacation, and even where to eat supper that night. We read reviews, customer testimonials, and comparisons between similar places and products. We spend time and energy to make sure we make the right choice.

Doesn’t our hospital selection deserve at least the same amount of attention?

Safety Rankings and Scores

To protect yourself and your family, it’s worth the effort to research any hospital you’re considering. Thankfully, there are a number of tools and resources available to help you make an informed decision.

The Leapfrog Group presents their annual Hospital Survey results on over 1800 American hospitals. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid offers a hospital compare feature that looks at 64 quality measures summarized into a 5-star overall rating. Consumer Reports provides quality and safety measure ratings on hospitals across the country.

Perhaps best of all, the Hospital Safety Score provides a straightforward letter grade on over 2500 hospitals in the US, updated twice each year (spring and fall). The score is compiled using “national performance measures from the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the American Hospital Association’s Annual Survey and Health Information Technology Supplement.” It can quickly tell you how effective any hospital is at keeping patients safe from preventable harm and medical mistakes.

Choosing a hospital using the safety score is simple: select the location with the highest grade possible. If your two closest hospitals have grades of B and C, opt for the one with the B.

Using the Safety Score, you can easily evaluate a hospital on infections, problems with surgery, practices to prevent errors, safety problems, and doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. These are some of the most important criteria when considering a hospital for your stay.

Pay particular attention to their MRSA, C.diff, and bloodstream infection scores, as these are some of the most prevalent but preventable hospital infections that can lead to serious complications. Of equal importance is a hospital’s rank when it comes to hand washing. Proper washing policies are the easiest way to control, reduce, and even eliminate bacterial infection and the spread of germs within a hospital.

The Hospital Safety Score recently added a “Past Grades” feature that allows you to see their grades over the past few years. Are they consistent, getting better, or getting worse over time? It should be part of your decision process.

Why It Matters

Obviously, you want to stay at the safest hospital in the land. You want to feel confident you’re going in to get better, and not worse. But how much difference does a letter or two really make?

A great deal, as it turns out. The Leapfrog Group partnered with the Armstrong Institute of Patient Safety at Johns Hopkins to answer that question. They compared available data on hospitals in each letter group – A, B, C, D, and F – and came to some frightening conclusions.

Compared to an “A” hospital, you’re risk of dying increases by 8.5% in a “B” hospital.

A “C” hospital gives you a 35.2% increased chance of death when compared to an “A” hospital.

And finally, you’re 49.8% more likely to die in a “D” or “F” hospital.

If every hospital improved their score to an “A”, there would be 33,459 fewer deaths each year. Nearly 34,000 more people would enter and leave a hospital with better safety policies and performance.

Those scores do matter. Selecting a hospital is an important decision. It can have monumental consequences. Make an informed choice. Make the right choice.

Patient safety should be priority number one. For everyone and everywhere.

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