The latest research indicates about 440,000 people die each year in the U.S. after suffering a medical error in a hospital. These fatal mistakes include everything from misdiagnoses to surgical tools left inside a patient’s body. A new analysis from Consumer Reports indicates that the hospital you choose when you need medical care does make a difference in the level of care you receive and even in your risk of dying from a medical mistake.
The Consumer Reports hospital safety scores analyzed information from 2,591 hospitals in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. They assigned a score of 1 to 100 for five different measures including: mortality, appropriate use of scanning (due to radiation concerns), communication about discharge instructions and new prescriptions (thereby preventing prescription errors), hospital acquired infections, and unnecessary readmissions.
How hospitals measured up
The findings reveal that some hospitals are simply better at keeping their patients alive. And when you compare the worst ranking hospitals against the best, those differences are stark.
For example, among pneumonia patients in the highest rated hospitals, the mortality rate is 8.5 percent. In hospitals with the lowest safety scores, the rate is nearly double, at 16.1 percent. Heart failure patients fared about the same at the safest hospitals, with a mortality rate of 8.5 percent, but their counterparts at the low-rated hospitals faced a death rate of 15.8 percent. Heart attack patients had higher death rates all-around—12.4 percent in the high-rated hospitals and 18.1 percent in the low. Surgical patients experienced a similar difference from hospital to hospital, with a mortality rate of 8 percent in the high-rated locations versus 14.2 percent in those ranked lowest on the list.
These differences, when comparing the hospitals that scored the highest and those that scored the lowest, could literally mean the difference between life and death, as John Santa, M.D., medical director of Consumer Reports Health explains.
Those hospitals doing the best aren’t just outperforming others in a single area, but have created a culture of safety on every level.
On one end of the spectrum, NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC earned top ratings in both medical mortality and surgical mortality. Highland Hospital of Rochester, on the other hand, was among the bottom three scorers in both measures.
What safe hospitals do differently
Operating a safer hospital is a matter of good communication among hospital executives, doctors, nurses, and support staff, as well as patients and their families. It’s also a matter of infection-prevention strategies, clearly defined and well-implemented safety protocol, accountability among all hospital personnel, and so much more.
The hospitals that do the best are those that pay the greatest attention to patient safety and survival. They revisit policies frequently and address every mistake with great care and as a learning experience.
It’s easy to place blame, point fingers, and avoid accountability, particularly when lives are on the line and a medical malpractice lawsuit potentially hangs in the balance. The safest hospitals seem to handle this pressure with more ease, providing better outcomes for everyone involved.
The big takeaway: Choose your hospital wisely
We don’t always have a say in where we receive medical care when emergency situations dictate that we go to the nearest hospital. It’s important that when we do have a choice, we make that decision carefully.
Just as you only frequent retailers with good customer service, clean establishments, and sound policies, you should strive to frequent medical facilities that do everything possible to ensure the best medical outcomes for all patients.
You can view more information on Consumer Reports hospital rankings here and use the Medicare funded Hospital Compare website to look up individual medical facilities in your area.