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A better way to judge hospital quality

April 22, 2010 |  8:00 am

If you judge the quality of a hospital, one of the first things you’d want to know is the mortality rate of its patients, right?

Hospital Wrong, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal.

Only 5% of deaths that occur in U.S. hospitals could have been prevented, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Birmingham in England. Hospitals shouldn’t be dinged for taking care of patients who were already beyond saving when they were admitted, the researchers say.

People who put together hospital rankings surely rely on data reporting all deaths because it’s easier than figuring out which of those patients could have survived if they had received better care. But they should shift their focus to other statistics that get at whether the doctors, nurses and other caregivers are sloppy or careful, according to the researchers.

One suggestion: Tally the number of patients in the intensive-care unit who wind up with bloodstream infections, a life-threatening mistake that kills 31,000 hospital patients in the U.S. each year. Another option would be to focus on deaths of patients who are admitted for elective surgery, since all of them would be expected to survive.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Hospitals shouldn't be penalized for taking in patients who are beyond saving, researchers say. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times