U.S. News' 'Best Hospitals' get mixed results in our safety Ratings

Consumer Reports News: July 19, 2012 12:38 PM

The top hospital in the U.S. News Hospital rankings released this week is Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The same institution earned a below average score in our recent safety Ratings. That's actually not as surprising as it might seem, since our Ratings and theirs focus on different aspects of hospital care.

U.S. News tries to measure a hospital's expertise in treating specific conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. Our safety Ratings focus on how well a hospital prevents infections, readmissions, and other kinds of hospital harm. Massachusetts General is at the top of the U.S. News "Honor Roll," because it scores high in several specialty areas, including diabetes and endocrinology; ear, nose and throat; and neurology and neurosurgery. But our Ratings show that it has some work to do, particularly in reducing readmissions and improving communication about new medications.

Two other top performers in the U.S. News list were rated low in ours. The Cleveland Clinic, ranked fourth by U.S. News, was in the bottom quarter of our safety Ratings. And New York-Presbyterian University Hospital, in New York, ranked seventh in U.S. News but was in our bottom 10 percent for patient safety.

Some hospitals do well in both Ratings. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis were in the top 10 of the U.S. News list. And both were also in the top 10 percent of the hospitals we rated for patient safety.

Three hospitals from the U.S. News top 10, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, could not be included in our hospital safety Ratings because they lacked publicly reported data for one or more measures.

Our safety ratings, which look at several categories of patient safety (infections, readmissions, communication, overuse of CT scanning, complication rates, and mortality rates) are based entirely on data reported by hospitals to the federal government, state governments, or the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization that collects information on hospital performance. (For details, see How We Rate Hospitals.) About a third of the U.S. News score is based on its reputation among physicians, a third on mortality rates, and nearly a third on other care-related indicators, such as nurse staffing and technology. Safety is also considered, but it's worth only 5 percent of the total score.

Bottom line: Hospitals are complex places, and it can take multiple perspectives to get a full picture of their performance. Our story How Safe Is Your Hospital? describes how well hospitals protect patients from some common forms of hospital harm, and our hospital Ratings provide additional information on hospital performance. The U.S. News rankings focus on a hospital's expertise in treating complicated conditions.

U.S. News Best Hospitals 2012-13: the Honor Roll [U.S. News]
Massachusetts General Hospital [U.S. News]
Best Hospitals 2012-13: How They Were Ranked [U.S. News]

Kevin McCarthy

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