It’s ironic that the place we go when we are most sick also happens to be one of the most dangerous for our health.
According to Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon and author of Unaccountable, error rates have remained unchanged at hospitals over the past decade. In the New York Times bestseller, Makary tells of surgical sponges being left behind in patients, wrong limbs being amputated and children being overdosed because of sloppy handwriting. In fact, health care experts estimate that hospital errors causes anywhere from 98,000 deaths per year to more than 440,000.
The problem for patients is that most of us decide on a hospital without knowing where to turn for data on hospital safety. Vitals ranks hospitals on the basis of 5 different criteria, survival rate, major complications, case volume, length of stay, as well as an overall rating. But to get a deeper picture of a hospital, there are other metrics to consider that aren’t readily available.
In theory, accessing this information shouldn’t be so troublesome. Hospitals have been tracking errors for more than 12 years. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began collecting hospital quality information 10 years ago. Several states maintain their own databases of information. And then there are a slew of publications that compile statistics and ratings such as Consumer Reports and US News and World Report.
But a recent New York Times article “To Make Hospitals Less Deadly, a Dose of Data” summed up the problem of having a comprehensive view as this:
“All of these groups measure different things, which is why a hospital can rank near the top on one list and near the bottom on another. Most groups make money by charging hospitals to use their logo and ratings in their publicity.”
And while there is a gathering coming, transparency isn’t coming quick enough. Indeed, Makary believes that every patient needs to be their own patient advocate, seeking information and asking questions about their doctors and health providers.
What questions should you consider before you choose a hospital?
1) What’s your hospital’s rate of surgical site infection?
Infections post-op are one of the biggest risks for patients, and they can be fatal, too. Make sure to ask about a specific procedure. Rates might vary and you might not necessarily want an average.
2) How often does your hospital make patient errors?
Ask if how often the hospitals has left foreign objects (like a surgical sponge) inside a patient? Or administered the wrong type of blood? Or allowed patients to develop a bed sores?
3) What is the hospital’s record at preventing re-admission in the 30 days after discharge? Death rates and the number of readmissions within a 30-day period tell you a lot about the quality of a hospital’s care. Low death and readmission rates are desirable.
4) Are Patient Survey Results (PSR) available?
Knowing what other people think about the hospital is important. PSR gives data about how patients rate hospitals in areas such as how well physicians and nurses communicate with them, and how quickly they receive help. Patients also rate the hospitals.
5) Does the hospital have access to medical imaging?
Access to technology can determine whether or not diagnostic information is timely. This section gives information about how hospitals use MRIs, mammograms, CT scans, and cardiac imaging.