How do hospital ratings systems work?

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

Each year, a number of groups release hospital ratings to help guide consumers when selecting hospitals.

Many hospitals watch these ratings closely, touting them in their advertising in hopes of attracting more patients.

Each ratings group has its own timing, methodology and intended audience. Here are some of the major groups that regularly evaluate hospitals and how they do it.

Leapfrog Group

The nonprofit, founded by large employers and others who purchase health insurance plans, grades hospitals twice a year.

The grades are based on up to 27 measures of safety, including hand hygiene, bedsores and falls. The group gets the data from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as well as voluntary surveys sent to hospitals and other sources. Filling out the surveys can help hospitals, in some cases, score better grades, said Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog.

Go here to see full ratings.

U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report releases lists of the best hospitals in the state and country each year. Hospitals are ranked on factors including survival and readmission rates, patient experience, patient safety and nursing quality.

The publication also ranks hospitals in 16 specialties, including cancer, cardiology and heart surgery and diabetes and endocrinology. It also rates hospitals on any of 10 common procedures and conditions including colon cancer surgery, lung cancer surgery, heart bypass surgery and knee replacement.

To see the lists, go here.

Medicare’s Hospital Compare

The federal ratings system awards hospitals up to five stars for quality. The star ratings had been coming out regularly but were delayed in recent years over issues with the methodology and because of the pandemic.

The ratings, from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, are based on deaths, safety of care, patient experience, timeliness and effectiveness of care and readmission rates, which are how often patients have to be readmitted to a hospital after being discharged.

The methodology for scoring hospitals recently changed, after a number of hospitals complained that the system wasn’t fair. The American Hospital Association had said that the old system tended to give academic medical centers lower marks because they treat more complex patients than other hospitals.

The new methodology more equally weights measures of safety and quality when determining a hospital’s rating, said Tom Webb, associate vice president of quality analytics at Rush University System for Health. It also compares hospitals of similar sizes to one another when determining ratings, he said.

The new methodology does not take into account the socioeconomics of a hospital’s patients, despite hospital leaders urging the federal government to do so.

To search for hospital ratings go here.

IBM Watson Health

Each year, IBM Watson Health (yes, that IBM) releases a list of its 100 Top Hospitals. It formerly was known as the Truven Health Analytics 100 Top Hospitals.

The company bases its list on a variety of measures, including survival rates, complications, infections, length of stay, inpatient expenses, profit margins and customer experience.

IBM Watson Health also releases a list annually of the 50 top cardiovascular hospitals in the country and the 15 top health systems.

To see the report go here.