Treatment outcomes vary widely and depend on which state, city or individual hospital provides the care, according to the finding of a new report.
The report, HealthGrades Hospital Quality in America Study revealed that patients have a 69 percent lower risk of dying at "5-star" hospitals compared with "1-star" institutions.
In addition the difference between the best- and worst-performing hospitals has in fact widened by about 5 percent since the last year's report although overall hospital death rates have dropped by almost 8 percent.
HealthGrades is an independent health care ratings group which analyzed 40.6 million Medicare hospital records from 2003 through 2005 for its ninth annual report. Based on this data, they assessed the quality of care at more than 5,000 hospitals.
A star rating system was used in the report which tells people whether a particular hospital's performance has been "best" (5-star), "as expected" (3-star), or "poor" (1-star) on a particular procedure or diagnosis across 28 categories. The ratings are based on patient outcomes, specifically, the risk of dying, or having serious complications.
According to the report's author, Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs at HealthGrades, "Across 28 conditions, like heart failure and heart attack, and procedures, like bypass surgery, knee replacement, etc., there is a large variation between hospitals. Some of these differences can be quite large -- up to 90 percent."
In fact, the researchers estimated that if all hospitals were 5-star rated, the lives of 302,403 Medicare patients could have been saved from 2003 through 2005. In addition the researchers found that 50 percent of preventable deaths were linked to mainly heart failure, community-acquired pneumonia, sepsis (blood infection) and respiratory failure.
The report revealed an improvement in the risk of dying in a hospital by nearly 8 percent from 2003 to 2005 although this varied widely by procedure and diagnosis.
In addition, 5-star hospitals had significantly lower death rates for all three years of the study and showed a 19 percent improvement in quality compared to just "average" hospitals.
Collier also found that a typical patient has 69 percent lower risk of dying in a 5-star hospital compared with a 1-star hospital, and a 49 percent lower risk of dying in a 5-star hospital compared to an average-quality U.S. hospital.
Collier said that these disparities could be attributed to house management systems that don't adequately keep track of patients and treatments. In other cases, understaffing or the use of doctors who are unskilled in a particular procedure adds to a hospital's woes. She said that patients would do well to check out prospective hospitals before going in for a procedure as well as the hospital's record on that particular procedure.
Collier said, "There are resources where you can get objective information about outcomes. You need to check it out."