We go to the hospital to seek care and treatment. Certainly, most fully expect to heal and come home better than when we went in. And no one expects to get sicker while in the hospital, but it happens. While all hospitals have policies and procedures in place to reduce a patient’s risk of harm from dangerous pathogens, infections and medical errors, no hospital is perfect – and some are worse than others. So, how safe is your hospital? How can you learn your hospital’s safety record? Fortunately, several websites provide information about safety issues for hospitals you use, or plan to use in the future.
Why is it so important to know your hospital’s safety record?
Preventable, hospital based medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, after heart disease (#1) and cancer (#2). In fact, some experts estimating that errors cause 250,000 deaths each year in the US. However, it’s impossible to know the exact number of preventable deaths for two reasons: a lack of valid and standardized measures for the major causes of preventable death; and the difficulty separating inevitable from preventable harm.
Certainly, some hospitals are safer than others. Therefore, access to data regarding your hospital’s safety record, as well as information on their safety programs and processes, can help you make an informed decision when choosing a hospital.
Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog Group states that people deserve to know which hospitals are best at preventing errors and infections. I strongly agree.
What kinds of safety hazards exist in hospitals?
Unfortunately, there are many potential safety hazards in hospitals including:
- Patient misidentification
- Diagnostic errors
- Exposure to pathogens
- Medication errors
- Surgical errors
- Unnecessary testing
- Missed bedside alarms
- Transition of care errors (miscommunications)
- Patient falls
- Bed sores
How can you learn your hospital’s safety record?
Use Leapfrog Group to find safety grades.
The Leapfrog Group is a nonprofit organization committed to driving quality, safety, and transparency in the US health system. As part of their mission, top patient safety experts collect and analyze hospital data on safety, quality, and resource use, which they use to assign a letter grade (A, B, C, D or F) for each hospital. They update their data every six months, once in the Fall and once in the Spring.
In addition to individual hospital grades, each state is ranked according to their percentage of “A” hospitals.
You can search the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade database by zip code, state, or hospital name. Of course, in emergency situations, you should go to the hospital that can handle your condition and is nearby.
How do hospitals in your state rank?
In addition to looking up specific hospitals, the Leapfrog Group provides information on the number of hospitals in each state which received an “A” grade. Interestingly, the top 5 states, with the highest percentage of “A” hospitals, are, in order:
Conversely, Alaska, South Dakota and North Dakota have zero hospitals with an “A” rating, and Nebraska and West Virginia have the two next lowest percentages.
Use Kaiser Health News’ tool to find information on Medicare penalties.
Another way to learn which hospitals that struggle with safety issues is to analyze federal data on payments to hospitals. The federal government cuts payments to hospitals with high rates of hospital readmissions and those with the highest numbers of infections and patient injuries. Note that Maryland hospitals are exempted from penalties because they have a separate payment arrangement with Medicare.
Fortunately, Kaiser Health News has made this process easy. Use their website tool to look up hospitals by name or location to find out if Medicare imposed penalties for either readmissions or hospital-acquired conditions such as infections and patient injuries.
Look up hospital safety ratings on the Medicare Care Compare Site
Medicare’s site provides quality metrics for hospitals, including safety related issues. Their hospital ratings, between 1 and 5 stars, considers quality data on safety-related issues, such as readmissions and mortality rates. The overall rating shows how well each hospital performed on a set of quality measures compared to other hospitals in the US.
Medicare’s overall ratings incorporate the following quality measures into a final star rating for each hospital:
- Safety of care
- Readmission rates
- Patient experience
- Effectiveness of care
- Timeliness of care
- Efficient use of medical imaging
Note that some new or small hospitals may not report data on all measures, and therefore, aren’t eligible for an overall hospital rating.
Find hospital safety ratings on HealthGrades
HealthGrades is an independent healthcare ratings organization that provides reports on over 5,000 hospitals (and thousands of doctors). You can find a hospital’s safety information, including mortality rates for specific procedures and conditions. You can search for hospitals by location or name, and/or use their list of top hospitals for “Patient Safety Excellence” in your area.
Find safety-related information in the U.S. News Best Hospitals reports
The U.S. News Best Hospitals analysis reviews hospitals’ performance for adult and pediatric clinical specialties, procedures and conditions. Their scores consider several factors, including patient safety-related issues. Additionally, they rank hospitals by region so you can find the best hospital near you. Their Best Hospitals Honor Roll recognizes 20 hospitals with outstanding performance, and their Best Children’s Hospital Honor Roll recognizes 10 hospitals with superior pediatric care.
A most important caveat.
Importantly, there is no standard methodology used by hospital ratings sites, so you should take the information provided with a “grain of salt”
For example, an August 2019 article in NEJM Catalyst reports on an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of four major hospital quality rating systems. Importantly, the researchers found several issues they feel limit the value and accuracy of the ratings systems they examined, including limited and/or flawed data and measures, lack of robust data audits, and a lack of formal peer reviews. Certainly, these issues can lead to a misclassification of hospital performance and safety.
Additionally, although star ratings can help you compare hospitals, you should consider a variety of factors when choosing a hospital. For instance, speaking with your doctor about your care needs and reviewing patients’ opinions and feedback can help you choose a hospital.
Learn more about hospital safety.
Because hospital safety issues are common and dangerous, read these posts to learn what you can do, as a patient or family caregiver, to reduce your risk of hospital safety hazards:
- Germs in Hospitals and Doctor Offices – Watch Out!
- Protect Yourself from Hospital Infections.
- How Common are Patient Identification Errors?
- Why is Sepsis so Dangerous?
- Is C. Diff Dangerous for Patients?
- The Dangers of Missed Bedside Alarms.
- The Benefits of Participating in Hospital Rounds.
- How to Avoid Medication Errors in the Hospital and at Home.
- Do Hospital Policies to Prevent Falls Help or Harm Patients?
- Is Your Hospital Safe? Are Programs in Place to Avoid Dangerous “Never Events”?