Taking Healthcare Quality Ratings to New Heights

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

HIN is lucky enough to be located at the New Jersey shore. We tolerate the seasonal influx of tourists and traffic in exchange for the luxury of spending summer weekends on the beach. Last summer while doing just that I noticed that some traditional “fly-by” advertisements were not just promoting local restaurants and happy hours but also healthy summer behaviors. While I can’t recall the exact wording, a state health insurer sponsored airborne messages like “Friends don’t let friends get dehydrated” and “The next time I come by I want to see more sunscreen.” I’m sure these banners prevented at least one bad sunburn.

So this July 4 weekend, I wasn’t all that surprised to see a local medical center using this beachfront marketing method to tout its inclusion in Solucient’s top 100 hospitals. Monmouth Medical Center, a 527-bed community teaching hospital in Long Branch, N.J., flew a pink banner alerting beachgoers that it had received Solucient’s Performance Improvement Leader Award for 2005. (Solucient, a developer of information products for the healthcare industry, recognizes hospital CEOs and senior management teams that have led their organizations to achieve the fastest rate of consistent annual organizational improvement.) Congratulations to our neighbor for this achievement. The medical center no doubt hopes that the sun worshippers will remember this fact when making future healthcare decisions.

Coincidentally, the reading material in my beach bag provided some food for thought for healthcare consumers in that position today. An article by Gina Kolata in July 2nd’s New York Times titled “Looking for Answers When Choosing Care” asked this question: When faced with serious illness, should a consumer make care decisions based on the reputation of the hospital or the physician? Even as the healthcare industry shifts to a more consumer-driven model, there is still little hard data to guide consumers, Kolata says. According to the experts she interviewed, patient emotions and the limited availability of physician and hospital quality data can sometimes get in the way of these decisions.

Here’s some emerging research cited in her article:

ï‚· For patients preferring the comfort of their community hospital, the good news is that researchers from the Tufts University of Medicine have found that for most common illnesses—pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for example—there are minimal differences in outcomes between community hospitals and academic medical centers.

ï‚· When faced with major cardiac surgery, patients would be better off choosing a busy, high-volume surgeon with plenty of practice with the procedure than a renowned medical center, says a University of Michigan professor of surgery who has studied mortality rates among Medicare patients.

ï‚· On the other hand, for cancer care and surgery, focus on the facility, advises this same Michigan professor of surgery. Kolata also cites a soon-to-be-published study from the Annals of Medicine that found that a patient’s chance of dying during or just after cancer surgery was more related to the number of operations the hospitals did and less to the number performed by the surgeon.

It’s an interesting read, both for consumers grappling with healthcare choices and hospitals and providers attempting to meet consumer demand for quality-of-care ratings. It also points to a need for more readily accessible statistical data for prospective patients in this situation.

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