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Consumer Reports Launches Online Hospital Ratings for More Than 3,400 U.S. Hospitals
Date:8/3/2009

Ratings Allow Consumers to Compare Quality of Care at Local Hospitals

YONKERS, N.Y., Aug. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For the first time, Consumer Reports will provide patient satisfaction Ratings for more than 3,400 hospitals across the U.S. Subscribers to www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org will be able to look up their local hospitals to see how they stack up and the types of challenges that patients have experienced there. CR notes several areas of concern at hospitals nationwide; the vast majority of hospitals received the worst Ratings for communication about new medications and discharge planning.

Consumer Reports' new Ratings demonstrate substantial differences in quality of care across the U.S., including a link between patient satisfaction and intensity of care. It may come as a surprise to consumers that patients can be more satisfied in hospitals that tend to provide conservative care.

"Intensity of care is a critical part of the equation for consumers because it has many implications -- if you land in a hospital that is aggressive, that will mean frequent diagnostic tests and doctor visits, more reliance on specialists instead of primary-care doctors, prolonged hospital stays, more days in the ICU, and higher out-of-pocket expenditures, without necessarily improving outcomes," said Dr. John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. Those actions may potentially lead to an increased risk of complications and hospital acquired infections.

Intensity of Care and Patient Satisfaction

Published by the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, the online Ratings are based on patient surveys collected by the federal government's Hospital Consumer Assessments of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey, known as HCAHPS. For the first time, the HCAHPS data will be available to consumers in a user-friendly interface with CR's familiar Ratings.

A team of statisticians and health experts analyzed the government data to develop the Ratings. The Health Ratings Center also integrated intensity of care rankings, revealing a link between patient satisfaction and intensity of care; the hospitals that have above average patient satisfaction Ratings provide, on average, a more conservative (and less expensive) type of medical care. The intensity of care rankings are based on data from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

"Our colleagues at Dartmouth have found that patients who live in regions with more intense care -- longer hospitalizations and more doctor visits -- rate the quality of care lower, and vice versa," said Santa. When Consumer Reports culled a list of U.S. teaching hospitals -- specifically, those teaching hospitals that are rated significantly above the national average and those that are significantly below average -- a similar pattern emerged. "Some of the teaching hospitals that got high marks were also among the ones with more conservative care," said Santa.

Consumer Reports rates 3,415 U.S. hospitals online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org. Consumers can log on to look up their local hospital in addition to a featured list of 48 teaching hospitals. Some examples of teaching hospitals that rose to the top of CR's Patient Ratings, which also provide more conservative care: Gunderson Lutheran Medical Center (LaCrosse, WI), Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital (Lebanon, NH), University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics (Madison, WI), and the University of North Carolina Hospital (Chapel Hill, NC).

Some examples of teaching hospitals that fell to the bottom of CR's Patient Ratings, which also provide more aggressive care: Mount Sinai Medical Center (Miami Beach, FL), Long Island College Hospital (Brooklyn, NY), Caritas Health Care (Elmhurst, NY), Brooklyn Hospital Center at Downtown Campus (Brooklyn, NY), and Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center (Bronx, NY).

As noted above, several hospitals in the list containing the lowest Patient Ratings are in New York City, suggesting that teaching hospitals that practice an aggressive approach to chronic care are not leaving a positive impression on New Yorkers. "It's especially important that hospitals responsible for teaching the next generation of physicians encourage an approach emphasizing care strategies that make optimal use of resources while satisfying patients," Santa said.

Poor Communication About New Medications; Ill-planned Discharges

A recent poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that Americans trust the experiences of other hospital patients the most when it comes to information and ratings about hospital care. Using www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org, consumers can look up their local hospital's Overall Patient Experience Rating plus Ratings for eight performance measures: doctor communication, nurse communication, room cleanliness, discharge information, attentiveness of hospital staff, communication about new medications, pain control, and quietness.

Choosing a hospital with a high Overall Patient Rating score increases your chances of being generally satisfied. But consumers don't always have the luxury of choosing their hospital, for example, in case of emergencies, or because of insurance network restrictions. "Consumers who don't have a choice can use the Ratings to flag challenges in their hospital based on information we know consumers value -- the experiences of others like themselves," Santa said.

Santa said CR's Ratings point to several areas of concern with U.S. hospitals. "Too many hospitals are falling down on the job in key areas such as communication about new medications, discharge planning, and staff attentiveness," he said. A total of 3,141 hospitals, or 92% of all hospitals rated, were given the lowest Ratings for staff communication about new medications; 2,794 hospitals, or 82%, received the lowest marks for discharge instructions; and, 910, or 27%, received low marks for attentiveness of staff.

"Clearly patients aren't getting enough information about new drugs that are being prescribed for them. When a patient starts a new prescription drug, that's the time to make sure they fully understand the drug, its side effects, how it interacts with other drugs a patient might be taking, the correct dosing, and when to contact a doctor if there's a problem," said Santa. "The performance of hospitals when it comes to discharge is truly lackluster. While hospitals work to correct this, patients need to be forewarned so they can do everything in their power to get the right hospital staff working with them on their exit strategy, otherwise their chances of ending up right back in the hospital are increased," added Santa.

Think like a Nurse: Tips from the Trenches

To help consumers navigate their hospitals, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted an April 2009 survey of a national sample of 731 nurses who worked throughout the hospital -- in the emergency room, critical-care units, operating rooms, and other parts of the hospital. Their collective wisdom is synthesized with findings from interviews with doctors, patients, social workers, hospital officials, hospital pharmacists, and dietitians in an extensive report available in the September issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

What to Watch For In the Hospital:

  • Do your homework: Looking up your local hospital will tell you what types of challenges other patients experienced there. If you, like most Americans, have health insurance, be sure to get an up-to-date list of providers in your network and get a good handle on your plan's coverage rules, especially pre-authorization requirements. If you or a family member has a chronic medical condition that can lead to frequent hospitalizations, such as heart disease or respiratory problems, you might benefit even more than others from researching your local hospitals.
  • Take steps to avoid chaotic care: When care is not properly coordinated, a patient can be subjected to unnecessary or duplicate tests and treatments. If your admitting doctor or hospitalist isn't doing a good job of coordinating care, you have options, such as working with a patient advocate, social worker or case manager to coordinate your care. But remember, you may have to ask for their help.
  • Stay vigilant about problems: Just because a hospital looks clean doesn't mean it is. Doctors and nurses pick up a lot of nasty germs which they can transmit to other patients. Ask doctors and nurses to clean their hands where you can see them before treating you and be sure to ask visitors to your room to wash up as well.
  • Plan your admission and discharge carefully: Errors in medications tend to happen during "care transitions," when patients are admitted, transferred from one ward to another, or discharged from the hospital. An ill-planned discharge can put you right back in the hospital, so be sure to identify someone such as a patient advocate or case manager to review your discharge plans. Another key step involves "medication reconciliation" to ensure that you leave the hospital with the medication regimen you need, no more, no less.

About the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center

Consumers have come to trust Consumer Reports' ratings of thousands of products and services for the expertise and independence they represent. The Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center uses similar approaches to produce ratings tables, selecting the best sources of research to rate health care services, drugs, devices, institutional providers, and eventually physicians and other practitioners. The Health Ratings Center (www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org) currently provides Best Buy Drugs (BBD) ratings on prescription medications for more than 20 common medical conditions; Ratings of more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals; a wide array of healthy living products such as sunscreens and gym equipment; thousands of natural medicines; and treatment options for more than 200 conditions and diseases.

For a limited time, www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org is offering a 30-day free trial at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org/augtrial. The cost for a year's subscription is $19.

SEPTEMBER 2009

The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.


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