There are dozens of “report cards” that scrutinize hospital performance. However, a new addition to the safety scoring regime is drawing attention for its simplicity and potential to finally help consumers use safety rubrics to make informed healthcare choices. The new system will provide a single summary score to all facilities using familiar letter grades- A, B, C, D or F.
As a New York City medical malpractice lawyer, I appreciate that more clarity in hospital ratings is a positive step. This new letter grade may help patients and consumers understand instantly how the hospital scores on various patient safety indicators. Other options, such as the Department of Health and Human Service’s “Hospital Compare” website, rate the vast majority of hospitals as “average” on most measures. Simply knowing that a hospital is “average” is of little value when deciding between facilities.
The New Letter Grade System
This letter grading system was compiled by a panel of safety experts on behalf of the Leapfrog Group. Leapfrog has been issuing reports on hospital safety standards for years, but the letter grade is a new adjustment.
Of the 2,652 hospitals graded thus far, 53% received an A or a B in the initial assessment, according to Leapfrog. About 40% received a C grade. Five percent of hospital grades are still pending, which means those hospitals are in D or F territory but are given until November to improve their performance. Leapfrog will issue an updated list of grades at that time to be followed by annual upgrades.
The grading system itself draws on Leapfrog’s hospital survey data relating to matters like teamwork, medication reconciliation, hand hygiene, and ventilator care. Also, measures devised by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Joint Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality are included. These gauge how well hospitals prevent safety hazards like patient falls, pressure ulcers, and postoperative deep venous thromboses.
Response to Poor Grades
Of course, beyond helping consumers make informed choices, many hope that hospitals will take note of their grades and work to improve safety in response.
Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy and management at Harvard, and one of nine medical experts who devised the letter grading system, says that doctors are the key to improving safety. He noted, “Consumers might understand that a hospital might be at a C, but they are not going to know what to do about it. Physicians have a fiduciary responsibility to patients to ensure safety, and they can be very powerful change agents.” He continued, “It’s incumbent on doctors to ask, ‘What can we do better?’ If physicians start asking those questions, hospitals are going to respond.”
Unsurprisingly, the American Hospital Association complained that the new grades will “mislead” patients. A spokesperson said that the measures used to determine the grades are flawed and the grade do not accurately portray the safety efforts made by hospitals. The reviewers acknowledges that the grading system is not perfect, but they assert that the data itself is good and reliable. There is no reason to withhold important data simply because some are afraid of what it might reveal.
To find out how hospitals in your area, take a look at Leapfrog’s free website, Hospital Safety Score.
Do you find this new letter system easy to understand? Is a bad grade likely to affect your choice of hospital?
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