When it comes to personal safety, there are behaviors that we have learned require a second thought. Most of us know to wait until the soup cools down, to fasten the seat belt prior to driving a car or to use a Q-Tip for ear cleaning rather than a kabob skewer. Yet for all of these examples, there are people, places and things that surround us that we believe to be safe based on their role. Sometimes, we learn too late, and in rather painful terms, that our inherent trust was misplaced.
The August issue of Consumer Reports shines the spotlight on one such group of trusted institutions, that being our nation’s hospitals. Using a 100-point measurement system that evaulated the categories of infections, re-admissions, communication, CT scanning, complications and mortality, the magazine rated 1,159 hospitals in 44 states for safety, culled from data from independent sources and the government. The data analyzed did not include success rates of treatment, so the data is somewhat incomplete, but the findings make for an interesting read.
If one only took into account the scores on this report, it would be enough to begin exercising and eating vegetables immediately. The highest score of any hospital in the study was only 72 out of 100, which would be roughly the equivalent of a D student being the valedictorian. The physician-in-chief of the “winning” hospital, the Billings Clinic in Montana, humbly stated that their facility was far from perfect. The bottom hospital on the list, Sacred Heart Hospital in Chicago with a whopping 16 out of 100, declined comment for the article. Perhaps it was too hard to hear the quotes from the administrator through his HAZMAT suit?
In the CT scanning category, it was found that only 28 percent of the hospitals measured had rates of double-CT scans (that is, a CT with contrast following a scan without) at 5% or less. This points to an alarming trend of repeated doses of radiation for patients who in most cases may not need it.
The findings of the study only includes data for 18% of this country’s hospitals. This is because there is great rancor in the hospital community of late regarding who will be the ultimate gatekeeper of data on patient harm suffered in the hospital setting. The Leapfrog Group, whose data was analyzed for the study, has seen a rash of defections of late, as larger, well-known health systems begin to questions the methodologies and motivations behind the group’s information. A look at the members of Leapfrog reveals mostly purchasers of health care in the form of large and small employers. A similar peek at the partners of Leapfrog reveals insurers, for-profit hospital chains and pharmaceutical corporations. You are invited to draw your own conclusions about Leapfrog based on their membership and partners.
About the only group in this scenario who never seems to have a voice in the discussion on hospital safety is the patients. The study challenges patients and their families to carefully question decisions about their health care and where they choose to have it delivered. With scores seemingly so low universally, one wonders whether increased patient understanding will really make a difference in the long run.