It’s difficult-almost impossible-for a patient to determine where they’ll receive a minimum standard of care or even have a guarantee of patient safety. Consumer Reports has an analysis of government data on hospital safety, including how likely patients are to die of avoidable surgical complications. The magazine shows that hospitals vary markedly on these measures and that patients are at higher risk in some nationally-known facilities than at tiny hospitals little known outside their rural communities.
The safety ratings of 2,591 hospitals, released by Consumer Reports magazine on Thursday, come at a time when estimates of the number of Americans killed by hospital errors is soaring.
According to the 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine that first put a spotlight on the issue, the death toll from medical mistakes in hospitals was at least 98,000 then. In 2010, however, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general said that poor hospital care contributed to 180,000 deaths every year – and that was only among Medicare patients, those 65 or older. And a 2013 study estimated such deaths at a minimum of 210,000 annually and as many as 440,000.
If the highest number is correct, poor hospital care would be the country’s third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.
In 2011, 722,000 annual hospital-acquired infections alone killed 75,000 patients, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.
Not content with this kind of data analysis, however, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is working on a five-star rating system that would compare hospital quality the same way restaurants are rated. The agency is working on the requirements that would earn a one, two, three, four, or five star rating. There’s no word whether 20 percent of all facilities would receive either a one star or a five star or if they’d be scored individually. The agency would only confirm that a starred rating system will be in place by 2016.
Patients have a right to know if they will receive a minimum standard of care in the hospital where they or their loved ones will be admitted. Until hospitals operate with full transparency, patients and consumers will never know how many nurses are on staff, if they have the right skill mix, or if their chances of contracting a hospital-borne infection or illness is less or greater than another facility.