Get Ready for Medicare's 5-Star Hospital Ratings

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , April 3, 2014

That, in my opinion, would be too bad, because that information is really useful only for consumers, payers, and competitors who might be doing business with the very small number of hospitals now displayed as having the worst scores.

Here's what I mean. In the latest CMS database update, the agency categorizes hospitals that are "better than" and "worse than" in 30-day mortality and 30-day readmissions. Only about 2% to 3% of all hospitals score at the far-reaching ends of those quality scores.

For example, on CMS's measure for 30-day mortality in patients with a heart attack, only 77 hospitals out of 4,805 listed got a "better than" national average designation, while only 19 were "worse than," which is what people who might go to those 19 hospitals, or employers who might want to contract with them, really want to know.

Thirty-day mortality rates for 423 hospitals were "not available" and 1,748 had too few cases to reliably score. That leaves 2,538 hospitals with 30-day post discharge heart attack mortality rates no better or worse than national average, appearing to be OK even though many may be not that much better than the 19 worst!

It also remains unclear whether CMS will give a star ranking for every one of the nearly 100 measures now posted on Hospital Compare. Perhaps it will group certain measure categories, say 30-day readmissions for heart failure, pneumonia, heart attack, and joint surgeries, so a hospital that averaged good scores in all of those would get five stars.

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