However, hospitals that got Cs were somewhat more likely to have a medical intensive care unit, less likely to be a member of a hospital system, and more likely to be a hospital receiving disproportionate share funds than hospitals receiving a grade of A or B. Grade A hospitals had a slightly better nurse-to-patient ratio than those hospitals that received Bs or Cs.
Binder explains that the letter grades were designed around the initiative that began years ago in Los Angeles "where the public health departments inspect restaurants and give them a grade, and the restaurants are required to post that grade in their windows."
Studies indicate that more than 60% of customers consult a restaurant's grade before eating there, Binder says "And If people look at a grade as a safety indicator before going to eat in a restaurant, wouldn't they also look at a grade as a safety indicator before going to a hospital, which is clearly more important?"
Several patient safety experts across the country say that such a score is sorely needed to help patients make decisions, especially where to go if they need to have surgery.
"I would hesitate before going to a C hospital if there was an A hospital that was equally convenient and I had equal confidence in the doctor," says Robert Wachter, MD, another member of the Leapfrog advisory panel and a national patient safety expert at the University of California San Francisco.
Wachter notes that though 12 years have passed since the Institute of Medicine's groundbreaking report, "To Err Is Human," highlighted the shockingly high numbers of deaths and unintended consequences due to hospital errors, "it's still difficult for a patient, a family member or a clinician to determine if a hospital is truly safe."