New Government Website On Cardiac Care Apparently Can't Compare Hospitals


WASHINGTON, D.C.- Data posted on a website by the Federal Government, which for the first
time was supposed allow consumers to compare the level of cardiac care at thousands of hospitals nationally, has so far has shown not much difference between the hospitals.

The site,, now rates the level of cardiac care provided by more than 4,000 hospitals nationwide based on mortality statistics, the first time the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has posted hospital information based on outcomes.

The new data compare hospitals on treatment of heart attacks and treatment of heart failure. Based on mortality rates defined as how many patients with each condition died within 30 days of admission, CMS gave each hospital one of three ratings:  "average", "above average", or "below average".

Most hospitals were ranked in the first category: Of nearly 4,500 hospitals included in the survey of heart attack treatment, only 17 were rated "above average" and seven fell "below average". Of 4,807 hospitals graded for their treatment of heart failure, 38 were ranked "above average" and 35 below, while 4,734 had mortality rates "no different than the U.S. national rate."

Experts generally applauded the efforts of CMS, researchers and hospitals to make this information available to the public.

Visitors to the CMS site can search for hospitals by name or location. Clicking on the link for mortality rate information tells users which of the three categories a hospital falls into but won't give any actual numbers. A note on the site explains that the omission is deliberate because "comparisons based on estimated death (mortality) rates alone can be misleading."

Visitors to the Web site can also look at specific statistics for an individual hospital: for example, how many heart attack patients received aspirin.

While experts predicted that consumers would continue to choose hospitals on the basis of proximity, physicians' recommendations and the experiences of friends and family members, some said a below-average listing ought to prompt hospital administrators to examine and improve their procedures.

However, there are also potential drawbacks to using these statistics: Some hospitals may have patients who are sicker than others when they come through the door. To account for such variables and avoid penalizing such hospitals, the CMS data was "risk-adjusted" a complex methodology that experts say isn't an exact science.

As the government adds more data to the CMS Web site, the value of the information could grow. CMS plans to add more mortality ratings, including information on pneumonia later this year.


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