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Study Finds Hospitals Serving Communities with Higher Social Risk Achieve Lower Ratings on Medicare Hospital Compare Due to Neighborhood Factors

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide nationwide hospital ratings that may influence reimbursement. These ratings do not account for the social risk of communities and may inadvertently penalize hospitals that service disadvantaged neighborhoods. A new study in the journal Medical Care sought to examine the relationship between neighborhood social risk factors (SRFs) and hospital ratings in Medicare’s Hospital Compare Program. Researchers from University of Chicago Medicine used 2017 Medicare Hospital Compare ratings for a total of 3608 Medicare-certified hospitals in 50 US states linked with block group data from the 2015 American Community Survey to assess hospital ratings as a function of neighborhood SRFs. Hospital summary scores and 7 quality group scores (100 percentile scale), including effectiveness of care, efficiency of care, hospital readmission, mortality, patient experience, safety of care, and timeliness of care were examined. The study found lower hospital summary scores were associated with caring for neighborhoods with higher social risk, including a reduction in hospital score for every 10% of residents who reported dual-eligibility for Medicare/Medicaid, no high-school diploma, unemployment, black race, and high travel times to work. Associations between neighborhood SRFs and hospital ratings were largest in the timeliness of care, patient experience, and hospital readmission groups; and smallest in the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of care groups. Researchers concluded hospitals serving communities with higher social risk may have lower ratings because of neighborhood factors. Failing to account for neighborhood social risk in hospital rating systems may reinforce hidden disincentives to care for medically underserved areas in the United States.

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John Fahrenbach et al, Neighborhood Disadvantage and Hospital Quality Ratings in the Medicare Hospital Compare Program, Medical Care (2019). DOI: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001283

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