Don't Believe Everything You Read

Aug 2, 2013, 12:22 PM, Posted by

Emergency room medical team checks a newly admitted patient.

Does anybody commute to work anymore without passing by a huge billboard promoting world-class health care at a nearby hospital or surgicenter?  I know I see enough of them to have become pretty calloused to their messages.  But then, I don’t need health care right now.

What if I did?  Could I count on these extravagant advertisements to give me good guidance about where to seek care?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably not.

Recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal  and the New York Times  reacts to last week’s U.S. New & World Report “Best Hospitals” rankings for 2012-2013.

How good are these rankings? Emanuel and Steinmetz call the underlying methodology “flawed to the point of being nearly useless.” The New York Times’s Rosenthal cites the work of one of RWJF’s Clinical Scholars, Nicholas Osborne, MD, in comparing two top ranking systems—U.S. News & World Reports and Healthgrades—and finding a “large discordance” in the results.

So what is a consumer to do? I see some hope in emerging consensus on measures that might be more universal and reliable indicators of quality. Emanuel and Steinmetz mention the rate of hospital-acquired infections, for example, and I for one would like to see nursing-staff ratios (maybe even the percentage of RNs with bachelor’s degrees) have a stronger influence on quality rankings.

Let’s give consumers better tools to hold their providers accountable for good quality!