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Study Finds Hospital Rankings Hold Up, Some Basic Metrics do Effectively Diagnose Care Quality

A study co-authored by MIT economists indicates that some basic statistics used to rank hospitals really do provide real insight about hospital quality. The study was designed to work around a difficult problem in evaluating hospital quality: Some high-performing hospitals may receive an above-average number of very sick patients. Accepting those difficult cases could, on the surface, worsen the aggregate outcomes of a given hospital’s patients and make such hospitals seem less effective than they are.

However, the scholars found a way to study equivalent pools of patients, thus allowing them to judge the hospitals in level terms. Overall, the study shows, when patient sickness levels are accounted for, hospitals that score well on quality measures have 30-day readmission rates that are 15 percent lower than a set of lesser-rated hospitals, and 30-day mortality rates that are 17 percent lower.

The patient data came primarily from Medicare claims made across the country during the period 2008-2012, and covered over 170,000 hospital admissions for patients who had just suffered a health event requiring “nondiscretionary” hospital admission. The patients also fit some basic criteria, such as not having previously been admitted recently for the same condition. In addition to analyzing 30-day readmission and mortality rates, the researchers looked at patient satisfaction levels.

The researchers also found a 37 percent difference in one-year mortality, among highly-rated and lower-rated hospitals.

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