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Hospital Rankings: More Consumer Confusion Than Clarity

US News Best Hospitals badgeNearly everyone agrees with the well-intended ideal of an informed healthcare consumer. But if your hospital is listed among the major national “hospital ranking” systems, you may need to offer some guidance and interpretation.

From a 50-thousand foot altitude, providing patients and/or prospective patients with comparative insight about the good (and the not-so-good) performance of hospitals is a swell concept. Transparency benefits the consumer, makes for empowered and informed decisions, and provides the hospital with a continuous improvement model and feedback.

But as it turns out, a study published by Health Affairs, predicts more consumer confusion than clarity.

Four widely recognized national hospital ranking systems don’t agree with each other. In fact, findings by US News & World Report, Consumer Reports, Healthgrades and by the Leapfrog Group contradict each other “so completely that any consumer who consults more than one is sure to be confused.”

“No hospital was considered to be a high performer by all four, according to the study of the ratings from mid-2012 to mid-2013, and the vast majority of hospitals earned that distinction from only one of the four,” reports The New York Times. “Some hospitals were even designated as a high performer by one group and a low performer by another.”

Explain the difference to your hospital audience…

The research did not spotlight one ranking system as a preferred method, nor did it quantify the degree to which patients might be confused.

They did observe that: “The lack of agreement among the national hospital rating systems is likely explained by the fact that each system uses its own rating methods, has a different focus to its ratings, and stresses different measures of performance.”

Local hospitals may want to offer guidance about how each of the four major ranking systems differ in their criteria and purpose, and to inform patients about how these systems serve different purpose. Providing interpretation for the local hospital audience can be proactive in heading off consumer confusion.

“While the lack of agreement among these rating systems is largely explained by their different foci and measures,” Health Affairs reports, “these differences are likely not clear to many physicians, patients and purchasers.”

For more on this topic, see: National Hospital Ratings Systems Share Few Common Scores And May Generate Confusion Instead Of Clarity. Health Aff March 2015 34:3423-430

Kathy Gaughran

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