new study ranks us hospitals on ability to keep patients safe from accidents injuries errors

In this digital age of instant information and constant communication, we have nearly unbridled access to the local and national news stream. While this is advantageous to the extent that it keeps us informed and raises awareness, it can also work against us in that we sometimes fail to stop and truly think about the big picture. To illustrate, a quick scan of a smartphone screen can reduce vital statistics to just another string of numbers or a shocking news report to a fleeting moment of outrage.

Interestingly, The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit organization, recently released a report on hospital safety that every American will probably want to reflect on very carefully.

The report — entitled the Hospital Safety Score — gave 2,618 hospitals in 49 states a letter grade (A, B, C, D or F) based on their success in keeping patients safe from infections, injuries, prescription errors and general medical errors in 2011. According to The Leapfrog Group, these various causes are behind at least 180,000 patient deaths in the U.S. every year.

The Leapfrog Group assigned these letter grades after conducting a comprehensive assessment of “26 measures of publicly available hospital safety data” provided by such organizations as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to name only a few.

While a complete discussion of the Hospital Safety Score is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, here are some of the more salient points:

  • 790 hospitals were given an A, 678 hospitals were given a B, 1004 hospitals were given a C, 121 hospitals were given a D, and 25 hospitals were given an F
  • 58 percent of the hospitals maintained the same grade level from a previous assessment, 34 percent of hospitals moved a single grade level (both up and down) and 8 percent moved two grade levels or more
  • Massachusetts and Maine had the highest percentages of hospitals earning an A, 83 percent and 80 percent respectively
  • New Mexico had the lowest percentage of hospitals earning an A, coming in at only seven percent

Closer to home, the Hospital Score assigned 29 percent of the hospitals reviewed here in Pennsylvania an A, with a least six hospitals in the Pittsburgh area earning the highest grade.

At first glance, this might seem to present a fairly positive picture, but it should be noted that The Leapfrog Group advises patients to remain vigilant even when staying in hospitals with high scores. Why? There may be several reasons, but the most obvious is that many of the publicly available measures of hospital safety rely on self-reporting, which, as we have mentioned in previous posts, may not always (or often, or ever) be a reliable measure of the true incidence of serious preventable error.

So regardless of safety ratings and self-reported data — even when these show some improvement — the stunning and unacceptable incidence of fatal hospital errors means more needs to be done to protect patients.

Please visit our main website to learn more about hospital negligence.

Sources: Hospital Safety Score, “Errors and infections still a serious problem in American hospitals: A, B, C, D or F hospital safety scores assigned to local hospitals by The Leapfrog Group,” Nov. 28, 2012; CBS News, “Study on safest hospitals shows some surprising results,” Michelle Castillo, Nov. 28, 2012

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