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Patients give hospitals low scores on pain control

October 29, 2008 |  2:00 pm

Pain1_3 A survey of patients regarding the care they received during a hospitalization shows most are satisfied with their experience. Many patients, however, gave low scores to hospitals on pain management and discharge instructions.

Hospitals are routinely assessed for their quality of care based on outcome data. But there has been little information on how patients feel about their care. The study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, came from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. The survey of 2,400 hospitals targeted six areas: communication with doctors, communication with nurses, communication about medications, quality of nursing services, how well hospitals prepared patients for discharge, and pain management.

On average, about 67% of patients said they would definitely recommend the hospital in which they were treated. The study found that hospitals with higher nurse-to-patient ratios had more satisfied patients. Moreover, the hospitals that tended to score higher on standard quality measures based on outcome data also tended to have more satisfied patients. "There need be no trade off between ensuring that care is technically superb and addressing the needs of the patients," said senior author Arnold Epstein, chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard School of Public Health.

There was some regional variation, with patients in Birmingham, Ala., giving hospitals the highest marks and patients in East Long Island, N.Y., the lowest marks. The most consistent complaint among all patients was in pain management, where nearly one-third did not give high ratings. About one-fifth of patients also said the hospital did not communicate discharge instructions well.

To view data on individual hospitals, go to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Hospital Compare website and click on the "Find and Compare Hospitals."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times