Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital rating systems rarely agree: Do they matter?

Should hospitals really be concerned about where they rank when it comes to rating systems like Consumer Reports or the Leapfrog Group? Based on the results of a recent analysis, the answer may not be as clear cut as you think.

RatingA recent study in Health Affairs looked at popular rating systems for hospital quality. Patient safety researchers reviewed hospitals that appeared on four lists: U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals, HealthGrades’ America’s 100 Best Hospitals, the Leapfrog Group’s Hospital Safety Score, and Consumer Reports’ Health Safety Score.

In all, about 844 hospitals were ranked, according to a news release by the Advisory Board. And only 10% of these hospitals received a top score on more than one rating list.

Even more surprising, no hospital ranked as a top performer on all four lists. In fact, a hospital could be at the top of one rating system’s list, and be near the bottom of another.

Different criteria

Although this may seem strange, each rating system uses different data and metrics to calculate its scores, as highlighted in an NPR article about the study.

While the Leapfrog Group gives each hospital one of five letter grades based on patient safety, Consumer Reports ranks hospital safety on a scale of 0-100. U.S. News and World Report focuses on medical specialties where patients are often treated for complex conditions, and HealthGrades mostly focuses on patient outcomes for a variety of illnesses and surgeries.

Because each organization measures hospital quality slightly differently, this causes many contradictions when it comes to comparing facilities’ performance on each list. For example, over 40% of hospitals that were designated as having below-average mortality rates under one rating system were classified as having above-average mortality rates under another.

Patient perception

When evaluating rating systems this way, it’s tempting for hospitals to conclude they don’t hold weight. After all, with so many contradictions among the scoring systems, how can you even use them to determine where to focus your improvement efforts?

But there’s a significant reason to be aware of where your facility ranks on these lists: Patients pay a great deal of attention to hospital ratings.

And since health care has become more consumer-driven due to insurance coverage changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act, patients take a hospital’s safety ranking into consideration when deciding if they should use specific facilities for scheduled surgeries, elective procedures and other treatments.

The average patient also has access to a great deal of information about hospitals. Besides reviewing where a hospital falls within these rating systems, patients can also see how a hospital’s rated by other consumers on user-generated review websites like Yelp. And the feds are pushing for more transparency about how hospitals are performing – and how much money they’re making.

So, even with the inconsistency that comes from these ranking systems, it’s important for hospitals to at least be aware of where they rank, since it’s likely that it’ll affect patients’ decisions about where to seek treatment.

While it may be difficult to use the scores to target specific areas where facilities can improve, they can be helpful with painting a general picture of how well hospitals are meeting certain quality benchmarks.

Another reason why it’s crucial to know where you stand: If your facility scores lower than expected on one organization’s list, you can counteract the negative publicity by highlighting areas where your hospital’s doing well. This can improve your hospital’s reputation in the eyes of patients, which can mitigate the damage a low score may do to your revenue.

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