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Published: Monday, 7/23/2012

EDITORIALS

Hospital scores: high, low

Toledo area hospitals earned mixed grades in two new surveys of quality of care and patient safety. Although the methodology of one of the studies is open to question, both suggest areas of inquiry for consumers and providers.

A first-ever analysis of patient safety by Consumer Reports magazine ranked the University of Toledo Medical Center last among 107 hospitals in Ohio. The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic also scored poorly. The magazine said its study was inspired by a 2010 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study that blamed infections, surgical mistakes, and other hospital miscues for as many as 180,000 premature patient deaths and 1.4 million serious injuries each year.

By Consumer Reports' own admission, its report has limitations: It said it was able to get good data on just 18 percent of hospitals, largely because of inconsistent reporting requirements among states.

So the analysis relied on a great deal of self-reported data. Critics challenge the veracity of some of the study's figures, claiming hospital procedures may lead to double-counting.

Consumer Reports has earned its reputation as a reliable watchdog. Yet while its study downgraded UTMC, the hospital got the highest scores in the Toledo area in an annual performance ranking compiled by U.S. News & World Report.

According to that publication's new ratings, which came out last week, UTMC -- the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital -- shares that distinction with Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. U.S. News & World Report ranked UTMC a high performer in eight adult specialties, one more than last year.

UTMC, St. Vincent, and Toledo Hospital, which also handles high-risk cases, scored favorably in U.S. government ratings issued this year for the nation's 4,000 Medicare-certified hospitals. St. Vincent got especially good results in a patient survey.

Such studies go only so far. Some hospitals may work hard to keep their infection rates down, but still have their figures skewed by the number of high-risk patients they care for.

Rather than dismiss any study or take too much comfort in it, hospital officials should implore states to develop more consistent programs to collect medical data. Americans deserve a fuller picture of the safety and quality of medical care they receive from the nation's hospitals, as well as its cost and accessibility.



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