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Posted on 11.20.2013

Talking About Hospital Quality

Good news, hospital marketing directors! The government shutdown message on the CMS Hospital Compare website has been updated and it looks like we're back on track for a December 12 data refresh.

If the prospect of explaining your hospital's quality performance (again) makes you feel like calling in sick, you're not alone. From our earliest years in school we learn that talking about report cards is no fun - particularly if a sibling or neighbor down the street has something to crow about.

But the reality is that hospital quality, in general, continues to improve. According to The Joint Commission, their accredited hospitals in 2012 achieved 97.6 percent composite accountability on core measures - an improvement of 15.8 percentage points since 2002.  So even if your hospital doesn't score quite as well as a competitor in your market, you may be able to share a few positive sound bites with stakeholders and reporters to help bring balance their analysis.

  • Be sure to review all of your hospital's scores and understand how the organization has performed over time. If your hospital is following The Joint Commission’s trend, odds are good you've consistently improved year over year. So if your scores went up in 24 of 28 measures last year, for instance, you’ve got positive news - even if a nearby competitor outperformed you on individual comparisons.
  • To bring context to the full data set, analyze your scores not only against your competitors, but against state and national averages as well. Telling an inquiring reporter that your hospital meets or exceeds state and national averages in 60% of measurement areas increases the likelihood they’ll look beyond the initial "who scored best" perspective.
  • Don't forget to consider your hospital's readmission and mortality rates. Though many hospitals have gotten good at "taking the test" and performing well on core measures, mortality and readmission can pose a different kind of challenge. Some popular analysis efforts, including Leapfrog and Consumer Reports, place greater emphasis on these measurements and can seemingly contradict strong core measure results.

In addition to Hospital Compare, healthcare providers and consumers (as well as reporters) can access WhyNotTheBest.org, a transparency effort of the Commonwealth Fund that produces side-by-side comparisons of 4,500 hospitals nationwide, tracks performance over time and provides numerous benchmarks. Unlike the CMS site, which provides somewhat clunky, measure-by-measure graphs among up to three hospitals, WhyNotTheBest has a nimble, intuitive interface that provides a numbered ranking in a visual format. If your hospital performs well in their analysis (which includes core measure data, but also factors in information from the CDC, AHRQ and other sources), this website can be a real boon in your tool kit for educating stakeholders and the media.

If the data refresh still makes you feel like the flu is coming on, remember: transparency sites are useful tools, but they only tell a part of a hospital's story, and even "refreshed" data is inherently dated. Patients making decisions about hospital care should speak with their physicians, talk to family members and friends about personal experiences, and arrange to visit their local hospitals to be truly informed consumers.  


Rosemary Plorin is President of Lovell Communications.  You can view more of her blog posts here. Connect with her at rosemary@lovell.com or @plorin.  

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