Statewide report pinpoints hospitals that provide the best care

Published: Sunday, Jan. 1 2012 4:21 p.m. MST

Caroline Heap holds her son Levi after delivering him at McKay-Dee Hospital, rated highest in the state for childbirths.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With multiple hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley, it is sometimes difficult to know where to go for care.

Utah Department of Health officials are hoping that a new report will help patients and their families know how hospitals are performing statewide.

In addition to measures of in-hospital deaths, the Utah Hospital Comparison Report, available online at www.health.utah.gov/myhealthcare, provides lists of average costs and patient safety ratings. The report also shows maps of countywide rates for avoidable hospitalizations, readmission rates, hospitals' adherence to guidelines for recommended care and patient satisfaction.

"It is the first time that the information has been released in this way," said Carol Masheter, a UDOH epidemiologist.

The report shows that Utah hospitals are doing better, overall, than the rest of the nation, in measures including prevention of injuries to newborns, women giving birth, and in-hospital deaths among patients with heart-failure, pneumonia and stroke. However, there are differences among hospitals.

McKay-Dee Hospital Center, an Intermountain Healthcare facility in Ogden, is reported to have the highest ratings in the state for childbirths without injury and other healthy deliveries, while MountainStar's St. Mark's Hospital was ranked best in the state for its cardiology clinic. Also according to the report, the state's best care for stroke patients can be found at the University Hospital.

In its first year of use, however, the layout and design of the online report may give users some trouble, as data and details in the report can be difficult to decipher.

"It is supposed to be user-friendly, but it is built by people who use this kind of data all the time," Masheter said.

While it is helpful to the general public, the report is mostly aimed at hospital administrators and statewide policymakers, who can use the information to provide better care and make informed decisions regarding health care.

"We support transparency of health care performance measures that are well-designed and validated," said Audrey Glasby, spokeswoman for Utah's MountainStar Heathcare network of hospitals. With accurate information, she said, "people can make better decisions about their health care."

Like all hospital networks in the state, Glasby said that even without the recent report, MountainStar continuously reviews policies and procedures at its hospitals to be able to offer the best practices.

"Good consistent information is at the heart of quality and value improvement," said Intermountain's Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Greg Poulsen. "Providing accurate, clear and easy to understand data helps consumers to make wise choices, and providers to make improvements."

In most cases, the data give users a good idea of how hospitals are performing, but in the case of University Hospital, a level-one trauma center, "it's like comparing apples to oranges," said spokeswoman Kathy Wilets.

"We feel comparing the University of Utah Hospital to another community hospital is not an accurate comparison," she said, adding that with its burn unit and high-risk obstetrics center, among other specialties, "we are the place where other hospitals send their most difficult cases."

Other reports put the U. at the top of the nation in terms of patient experience and patient satisfaction, and the recent UDOH report gives it average or below-average marks in the same categories.

"Our concern is that some of this data is two years old, and we may have already acted on it, if there was an apparent problem," Wilets said. "We don't necessarily consider (the UDOH report) to be an accurate reflection of where we are right now."

"We are far more focused on comparing our hospital to our academic medical center counterparts across the country," she said.

Some of the numbers in the report are skewed, depending on the volume each hospital treats, and Masheter said that when a hospital has treated fewer than 30 patients in a category, the numbers in the report might not be all that reliable. Ratings of "better" or "best," she said, are "right where hospitals should be."

"These ratings are part of the conversation that we need to be having," Masheter said. "These numbers need to be out there. Everything has always seemed to be done in the dark."

The UDOH, with guidance from its advisory panel, the Health Data Committee, has released hospital comparison reports since 2005, as mandated by the Health Care Consumer Bill, SB132.

The greatest benefit of the report, Masheter said, is that it helps local health care districts know where to direct educational and promotional dollars. She said it will help target areas of the state that battle specific illnesses and also help to coordinate care in those areas.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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