1 in 6 patients choose a one-star hospital: 6 new findings from Healthgrades

If all hospitals delivered care of similar quality to hospitals receiving five-star recognition from Healthgrades, the Denver-based consumer healthcare database says 222,392 lives would have potentially been saved over two years.

Healthgrades released its 2016 Report to the Nation this week, which compares patient outcomes in hospitals with a one-star rating to those with three and five stars. The gist of the report: Significant variation in health outcomes exists in hospitals throughout the country, including "startling" disparities at the local level.

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Here are six things to know about the findings.

1. From 2012 through 2014, patients treated at Healthgrades' five-star hospitals experienced a 71 percent lower risk of death and 65 percent lower risk of complication during their hospital stay compared to patients' experience in a one-star hospital.

(Healthgrades says five-star hospitals are statistically significantly better than expected in treating conditions or performing procedures, three-star hospitals demonstrate performance that is as expected and one-star hospitals demonstrate performance that is statistically worse than expected.)

2. Hospitals in close proximity to one another have complication rates twice or three times as high as others in their vicinity. For instance, in Denver, complication rates for hip replacement surgery varied across hospitals from 3.9 percent to 13.6 percent.

3. Few hospitals claim superior performance across all 33 conditions and procedures analyzed. For example, of the 14 Chicago hospitals that picked up a five-star rating for heart attack treatment, eight of them received one star for total knee replacement.

4. One might assume that cities with the most hospitals would contain the most five-star facilities, but Healthgrades negated this correlation. A greater amount of choice does not guarantee better outcomes. In several cities, while 30-plus hospitals treat certain conditions, only a handful earned five-star ratings. Take Houston for example: Of the area's 38 hospitals that treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, only one has a five-star rating for the condition.

5. When presented with objective information about the physician experience, patient satisfaction and hospital outcomes, 85 percent of patients would choose a different physician than the one the selected prior to "doing their homework."

6. Healthgrades analyzed roughly 45 million Medicare patient records for approximately 4,500 short-term hospitals nationwide to create the 2016 report. The firm assessed hospital performance for the Medicare population from 2012 through 2014 and one condition (appendectomy) based on all-payer data from 2011 through 2013. Healthgrades analyzed mortality and complication rates for 33 condition or procedure cohorts, including heart failure, stroke, sepsis, diabetic emergencies, hip replacement, spinal fusion and pneumonia. (A complete listing is found on page 9 of the report.)

Healthgrades adjusts for risk factors that influence patient outcomes, such as age, gender and co-morbidities.

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