New help for consumers to pick best hospital

Hospital Compare

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has added three new quality measures to the 17 already available for consumers to review online as they consider which hospital to enter.

The Hospital Compare Web site has also been updated with all available data from 2004. The site is a joint venture of CMS and the Hospital Quality Alliance, is a consortium of nonprofit organizations concerned with health care.

On the Web site, prospective patients can see how more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals compare in their adherence to up to 20 best practices for quality care. For example, heart attack patients should be given aspirin and medications called beta blockers on arrival at the hospital and again at discharge.

The 17 original quality measures relate to three medical conditions: heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia. More than 70 percent of the participating hospitals report their performance on all 17 of those measures, up from 23 percent when the site was launched in April.

Two of the new measures concern prevention of surgical infections and one concerns pneumonia. The infection-prevention measures are part of a larger set of patient safety measures related to surgery.

A CMS news release said the new data show some improvement in adherence to the quality practices. “It is too early to determine any major trends in hospital performance on the measures,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, CMS administrator. He cited “a continuing need for improvement efforts.”

Under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, CMS pays hospitals more for treating Medicare patients if the hospitals publicly report their performance on 10 of the measures. Not only are hospitals reporting more data than needed to receive incentive payments, but some hospitals not eligible for the incentive payments are also reporting, CMS officials said.

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