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Rating Consumer Reports New Hospital Ratings

By Clive Riddle, August 6, 2009

Consumer Reports this week announced “for the first time, Consumer Reports will provide patient satisfaction Ratings for more than 3,400 hospitals across the U.S. Subscribers to will be able to look up their local hospitals to see how they stack up and the types of challenges that patients have experienced there. CR notes several areas of concern at hospitals nationwide; the vast majority of hospitals received the worst Ratings for communication about new medications and discharge planning.”

In order to access this new tool, one must subscribe to Consumer Reports Health at a cost of $19.00 annually or $4.95 monthly. The subscription also gives you access to their rating tools for health plans, treatments, prescriptions, related products and provides various supplemental information.

Questions for those in the business of health care include, how influential will these Consumer Reports tools be? How many consumers will use them? How reliable is the information? How are providers, plans and products portrayed?

Consumer Reports touts that the hospital ratings, “are based on patient surveys collected by the federal government's Hospital Consumer Assessments of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey, known as HCAHPS. For the first time, the HCAHPS data will be available to consumers in a user-friendly interface with CR's familiar Ratings. A team of statisticians and health experts analyzed the government data to develop the Ratings. The Health Ratings Center also integrated intensity of care rankings, revealing a link between patient satisfaction and intensity of care; the hospitals that have above average patient satisfaction Ratings provide, on average, a more conservative (and less expensive) type of medical care. The intensity of care rankings are based on data from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.”

HCAHPS and the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care are perhaps the most mainstream established comparative data sources, so the reliability of the Consumer Reports data is not so much the issue, and hospitals are already accustomed and have access to how they are portrayed by these sources. So the remaining questions to address are how influential will the Consumer Reports tools be and how many people will use them. Should hospitals and other professionals invest energy in monitoring this?

If you’re a professional looking to research data from the Consumer Reports hospital ratings tool, you need not bother investing the $19 annually. I did, and while the Consumer Reports tool is darn easy to use and provides a choice of summary and detailed information, you can get the same data and much more for free direct from the sources. HCAHPS data in incorporated into the CMS Hospital Compare Web Site. The Consumer Reports tool lets you compare up to five hospitals at once, and Hospital Compare only lets you compare up to three. But the Consumer Reports detailed data is limited to the HCAHPS patient survey results and Dartmouth data on Chronic Care and Average Costs, while the Hospital Compare detailed information incorporates many more measures in addition to the HCAHPS survey data and provides optional graphs and tables.

As discussed in a previous blog, Checking Out CMS’ Hospital Compare, you can download the entire database from the Hospital Compare web site if you wish. There aren’t such data download capabilities from Consumer Reports. In fact, outside of providing a comparison to the top national ranked hospital in any results page (Oakleaf Surgical Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin) I couldn’t find national or state average data using the Consumer Reports tool. I did find a very nice Summary of HCAHPS Survey Results indicating state and national averages for each survey indicator for free from the HCAHPS web site.  Here’s the national average of hospital satisfaction levels for their various components, which are interesting:

  • Communication with Nurses: 74%
  • Communication with Doctors: 80%
  • Responsiveness of Staff: 62%
  • Pain Management: 68%
  • Communication about Medicines: 59%
  • Cleanliness: 69%
  • Quietness: 56%
  • Discharge Information: 80%
  • Overall Hospital Rating: 64%
  • Recommend the Hospital: 68%

The Consumer Reports tool does include some Dartmouth data, and The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care does cost $59 to purchase in print form. But while its not entirely simple to use, you can drill down through the site and query the databases, download applicable files and review applicable report, all for free.

So, a professional will find much more data, and free at that, going to the original sources rather than Consumer Reports. I can’t that I’d recommend the Consumer Reports tool to a consumer either for the same reasons, unless they really want and need something very simple and centralized to use, that doesn’t confuse them with too many data choices and options, and don’t mind paying for the privilege.

Of course, the Consumer Reports Health tool does offer much more than hospital comparisons, and because its offered by Consumer Reports, it will yield some influence over a number of consumers’ health decisions, and a number of consumers will undoubtedly use the service.

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