Consumer hospital rankings may draw on false data, study finds

Bala Hota, MD, an associate professor at Rush University School of Medicine in Chicago, and colleagues have identified incongruities in U.S. News & World Report's patient safety ratings among high-transfer and high-volume hospitals, according to a new study published in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

The authors of the study began their research after Rush University Medical Center received the lowest ranking possible for patient safety in the 2015–16 U.S. News & World Report's "Best Hospitals" rankings. Examination revealed data from U.S. News & World Report displayed many more patient safety events like pressure ulcers than the hospital had tracked. Dr. Hota and his colleagues discovered U.S. News & World Report data had included patient health issues in their tally for RUMC even when they were present prior to admission.

When Dr. Hota and his team investigated further, they found false accounting for safety events by U.S. News & World Report was common for hospitals with high volumes of patients and high transfer rates. Since the findings, U.S. News & World Report has made changes to its methodology and data sources.

In a companion editorial, David M. Shahian, MD, from Massachusetts General in Boston, Elizabeth Mort, MD, from Women's Health Associates in Boston and Peter J. Pronovost, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, reflected on the study.

The editorial authors concluded, "Just as healthcare providers have ethical and moral responsibilities to the public they serve, rating organizations and journalists that grade providers have similar obligations — in their case, to ensure measure validity and methodological transparency."

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