What do hospital rankings mean?

hospitalrankings2_largeChoosing a health care provider can be overwhelming. Annual hospital rankings from credible, established organizations can help consumers compare providers with one another around services provided, quality of care, reputation and patient safety.

How hospitals are ranked

Different organizations measure hospitals’ performance and reputation using different criteria.

U.S. News & World Report collects data from about 5,000 U.S. medical centers to rank each hospital in 16 specialties. It also establishes an Honor Roll that recognizes 20 hospitals that provide exceptional care, in comparison to their peers, in specialties as well as common procedures. U.S. News & World Report measures reputation using physician survey responses and measures quality and safety using objective data, including patient outcomes, safety events, services provided and the volume of patients admitted.

Hospital Compare is a Medicare comparative website. This site is available on an ongoing basis and reports publicly the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) results, Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) results, and complication and mortality rates. This data is updated quarterly. This website also publishes a star rating for hospitals on a yearly basis that takes all the data that is accumulated and gives the hospital a star rating level (out of 5) compared to all other hospitals in the nation.

Vizient is a national membership organization that focuses on helping hospitals and medical centers improve their performance by providing them with analytics and data-driven solutions. This organization uses its own precise data and other measurements, including HCAHPS results, to award annual honors to hospitals that consistently provide efficient, patient-centered health care that’s safe and effective.

Castle Connolly’s annual Top Doctors list is one of a few physician distinctions based on peer recommendations. Top Doctors are chosen from those physician nominations, combined with reviews of board certifications, professional achievements and other criteria.

Truven 100 Top Hospitals uses publicly available data sources, including data published on Hospital Compare, to generate the list of top 100 hospitals in the U.S. They also rank the 50 top cardiovascular hospitals and top 15 health systems.  They divide health systems into three comparison groups based on total operating expenses (i.e., large, medium and small) and score health systems based on a set of nine performance measures related to quality, efficiency and patient perception of care. 

Healthgrades evaluates hospital quality for specific conditions and procedures based on clinical outcomes using their own risk adjustment methodology.  They publish a variety of award categories, including “America’s 50 Best Hospitals Award” and “America’s 100 Best Hospitals Award.” Medicare inpatient data that is two to five years old is used to evaluate complication and mortality rates between hospitals. In some states, all-payer data is also used. Hospital performance is stratified into three categories based on a star rating system – five stars for hospital service lines performing better than expected; three stars for service lines performing as expected; and one star for worse than expected performance.

The Leapfrog Group uses data reported voluntarily from hospitals via an annual survey to evaluate hospital performance. They provide a “Hospital Safety Grade” – “A” through “F.” The Safety Grade includes 30 measures of performance based on national quality measures and reporting programs, such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Joint Commission Quality Check is The Joint Commission’s site to display accreditation and program certification status. It also includes standardized performance measures compared to national and statewide data.

Consumer Reports provides ratings for doctors and hospitals, summarized using ratings symbols to denote when performance is better than expected, as expected or worse than expected. A Consumer Reports Safety Score is a composite score (using a 100-point scale) based on data regarding patient experience, infections, readmissions, appropriate use of imaging, and mortality. The data used is gathered from other public sources, such as the Hospital Compare website.  

Why rankings matter to patients

When you have a health care need, it’s hard to know where to start looking for care. You can begin your research of hospitals and physicians with rankings that compare them with other medical centers you’re considering.

The most highly ranked hospital may not always be the best choice for everyone – perhaps it’s so far away that travel expenses would be too great, or that hospital isn’t in your insurance network. Finding the highest-ranked hospital that meets your criteria is a good option. Patients with specific needs or interests might search for hospitals ranked well in those categories. The specialty rankings in U.S. News and World Report can provide a starting point for conditions like heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

At The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, we consistently focus on providing care that’s among the best in the country. Our patients tell us we’re among the best, and so do our peers through the national rankings. Standardized metrics show us how we can continuously improve care for years to come.