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One more rating to worry about
Consumer Reports has joined the ranks of watchdogs watching over hospital care with its recent ratings of hospitals in infections, readmissions, communication, CT scanning, complications, and mortality.

In its August 2012 issue the publication also compares hospitals based on measures related to patient experience, patient outcomes, use of electronic health records, and appropriate use of scanning.

The venerable organization has for the first time rated hospitals for safety using the most current data available, which includes information from government and independent sources on 1,159 hospitals in 44 states. Consumer Reports says it also interviewed patients, physicians, hospital administrators, and safety experts, in addition to reviewing medical literature and looking at hospital inspections and investigations.

Although the publication includes comparative information on nearly 4,000 hospitals, the safety ratings cover only 18% of U.S. hospitals because data on patient harm still isn’t reported fully or consistently nationwide. “Hospitals that volunteer safety information, regardless of their score, deserve credit, since the first step in safety is accountability,” says John Santa, MD, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

“But the fact that consumers can’t get a full picture of most hospitals in the U.S. underscores the need for more public reporting,” he says. Hospitals were scored on a 100-point scale. More than half of hospitals received an overall safety score below 50%, Consumer Reports said in a news release.

“Almost 500 hospitals earned our lowest score for communication about new medications and discharge plans, and none earned our top score. That’s a problem because drug errors in hospitals are common and sometimes serious and poor discharge planning can lead to readmission,” it said.

As in rankings by LeapFrog and Hospital Compare and other groups, some well-known hospitals received poor marks. That includes Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, with a safety score of 45; Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, 43; Cleveland Clinic, 39; New York-Presbyterian, New York, 32; and Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, 30.

In addition to informing consumers, Consumer Reports’ rating system is aimed at hospital CEOs and boards, "in terms of their accountability," and getting them to understand they can do better, Dr. Santa told HealthLeaders Media.

"We see hospitals are figuring this out, but most of them haven't. The hospitals that have are those with CEOs and boards that have decided, 'enough of this ambiguity about safety. We've had 12 years since the Institute of Medicine report To Err Is Human. This is embarrassing. And we're not going to be embarrassed by it any longer,” he added.