Leapfrog: Chicago hospital's defamation lawsuit fails because safety grade was never published

Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago sued Leapfrog for defamation in October 2017, alleging the hospital ratings agency knowingly used incorrect information to lower the hospital's letter grade for patient safety. In a motion filed March 14, Leapfrog argues there are several reasons the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Here are six things to know.

1. The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Leapfrog awarded Saint Anthony Hospital letter grades of "A" for patient safety in its fall 2016 and spring 2017 reports, but lowered the hospital's grade to "C" in its fall 2017 report. The hospital claims Leapfrog lowered its grade for patient safety for allegedly prescribing patient medications electronically only 50 to 74 percent of the time. However, Saint Anthony Hospital said its physicians prescribe medications electronically at least 95 percent of the time, and that data was provided to Leapfrog.

2. The hospital alleges it informed Leapfrog of the error numerous times in October, but Leapfrog never said it would correct the issue prior to releasing its hospital ratings Oct. 31. Saint Anthony contends Leapfrog's refusal to issue the hospital a higher letter grade and correct the alleged error amounts to defamation.

3. Leapfrog argues the hospital's "C" for patient safety was based on self-reported data. The hospital submitted data to the Leapfrog Hospital Survey via Leapfrog's online tool June 7, and it reported that approximately 60 percent of inpatient medication orders are processed through its computerized physician order entry, according to Leapfrog. Hospitals graded by Leapfrog could update their responses until Aug. 31, and were able to review their data for three weeks beginning Sept. 13. "During this period, Plaintiff did not review its data and raised no issue regarding the CPOE data Plaintiff provided to Leapfrog," the ratings agency's defense states.

4. The hospital sued Leapfrog the day before the fall 2017 report was published. In response, Leapfrog agreed not to publish a safety grade for Saint Anthony Hospital and to remove the hospital's original CPOE results. "Despite the fact that the matter has been resolved by the parties, Saint Anthony continues to pursue this lawsuit," according to Leapfrog's March 14 motion.

5. In its motion, Leapfrog argues Saint Anthony's claim for defamation is barred because the company didn't publish the hospital's safety grade. "Putting aside the fact that a publication of Saint Anthony's fall 2017 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade would not have been a false statement, Saint Anthony cannot sustain a claim for defamation because legally no publication ever occurred," states the motion.

6. Leapfrog further argues any publication by Leapfrog would be protected by Illinois qualified privilege, which serves to enhance a defamation plaintiff's burden of proof.

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