July 9, 2012

CT hospitals look to rankings to win business

Photo / Steve Laschever
Photo / Steve Laschever

Students are not the only ones concerned about scoring decent grades these days. Hospitals face a similar pressure to earn good marks.

Like boastful teenagers, hospital marketing departments are eager to shout about successes. It's good business.

Like parents who closely monitor their children's academic progress, insurers and consumers rely on ratings firms to measure patient safety and hospital performance reviews.

After several years of slow growth and declining revenues, a handful of Connecticut hospitals are ramping up their marketing efforts as they try to compete for more patients amid tremendous pressure to rein in costs and boost health care services.

In Connecticut, half the hospitals were recognized in a recent national study by an independent health care ratings organization.

HealthGrades, which released its "Patient Safety and Satisfaction: The State of American Hospitals" report this spring, recognized the 263 hospitals out of 5,000 evaluated that have the lowest occurrences of 13 preventable patient safety events.

St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, a 617-bed teaching hospital in Hartford, is the only hospital in Connecticut to receive that Patient Safety Excellence Award from HealthGrades.

The hospital safety and patient satisfaction grading system is designed to make it easier for consumers to access free information online about physicians, clinical outcomes, safety and health conditions.

The scores are intended to educate patients about safety when it comes to picking a hospital for themselves or their families, said Christopher Dadlez, president and CEO of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

"The largest majority who use the HealthGrades website are consumers actively searching for physicians," said Dadlez.

Choosing a hospital can be a life or death decision. Patients treated at a five-star hospital like St. Francis experience a 73 percent lower risk of mortality and a 63 percent lower risk of complications compared to those treated at one-star hospital, according to Dadlez.

"We believe HealthGrades is a viable resource for consumers to access since more than half of them who contact HealthGrades will make an appointment with a physician," said Dadlez. "More than 90 percent of them do so within a week."

In October, St. Francis was recognized by HealthGrades for being in the top 5 percent in the nation for safety and patient outcomes in joint replacement, spine surgery, and neurosciences.

The watchdog group crunches numbers and analyzes data using Patient Safety Indicator software from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The group gets its information from various sources, including data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and hospital surveys. The analysis is based on 40 million Medicare hospitalizations from 2008 to 2010. The 263 facilities represent the top 5 percent in the nation.

HealthGrades reported that more than 254,000 patient safety incidents among Medicare patients could have been prevented.

"It is clear patients and consumers are using these types of databases to access information about the quality of health care they are receiving," said Jamie Roche, a medical doctor who is Hartford Hospital's vice president for safety and quality.

"It's helping to raise awareness and increase dialogue about how we can provide the best care to our patients," said Roche. "Greater access and transparency keeps medical organizations accountable and competitive."

The Hartford Hospital was one of 263 medical facilities nationwide to earn the HealthGrades' "Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence" distinction this year.

The Hartford Hospital has been recognized by HealthGrades for 14 other quality awards over the past few years.

Two Connecticut hospitals in Middletown and Milford were recognized in the report for Outstanding Patient Experience in 2012.

Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, a 275-bed facility that earned Outstanding Patient Experience 2012 honors, has received a total of 12 awards from HealthGrades. The 106-bed Milford Hospital, which also earned the Outstanding Patient Experience 2012 recognition, has snagged two other awards so far.

Participation in the study is not optional, according to Kristin Reed, vice president of hospital quality programs at HealthGrades and author of the study.

"Today's healthcare consumer expects access to credible, independent information about the quality of care available to them," said Reed.

Connecticut's 30 acute care hospitals pumped nearly $30 million into ad spending in 2010, an 18 percent increase compared to 2009. And competitive rankings figure prominently in much of that advertising.

Hartford Hospital shelled out the most for ads, spending about $2.9 million in 2010, a 38 percent increase from a year earlier.

Between 2007 and 2010, the total operating expenses of Connecticut's hospitals increased 17 percent, from $7.6 billion to $8.9 billion; however, the annual growth in expenses has been shrinking.

Hospital expenses increased 8 percent in 2008, 5 percent in 2009 and 4.6 percent in 2010. Business spending also increased 29 percent from $920 million in 2007 to $1.19 billion in 2010.

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