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A new report may help consumers evaluate a hospital’s safety record before they become a patient.

Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit consumer advocacy and product safety organization, has released a new report in which they rated hospitals based upon key patient safety data.

The organization rated 1,159 hospitals in 44 states, giving a score from 1 to 100 based upon six patient safety factors, including infections, readmissions, communication, radiation from CT scanning, complications, and mortality utilizing data from government and independent sources, hospital inspections and investigations, as well as interviewing patients, physicians, hospital administrators and safety experts.

That no hospital scored higher than 72 shows there is room for improvement even at the best -rated hospitals. The hospital scoring the best in patient safety was Billings Clinic in Billings, MT with a score of 72. Saint Clare’s Hospital (Weston, WI), Alton Memorial Hospital (Alton, IL), Central Vermont Medical Center (Berlin, VT) and Kadlec Medical Center (Richland, WA) all tied for second place with a score of 71.

The hospital scoring the lowest in patient safety was Sacred Heart Hospital (Chicago, IL) with a score of 16. Harlem Hospital Center (New York, NY) came in second to last with a score of 20. Lake Regional Health System (Osage Beach, MO) and Kings County Hospital Center (Brooklyn, NY) tied with a score of 22. Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY also appeared in the bottom ten with a score of 25.

“The safety scores provide a window into our nation’s hospitals, exposing worrisome risks that are mostly preventable,” said John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “A consumer who enters a hospital thinking it’s a place to get better deserves to know if that is indeed the case.”

The hospitals rated in the report represent only about 18% of hospitals nationwide because patient harm data is limited due to inconsistent reporting requirements across the country. To fix this, the report also recommends that the government implement a national system to track and report medical errors, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine more than a decade ago.

“Hospitals haven’t given safety the attention it deserves,” says Peter Pronovost, M.D., senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “Medical harm is probably one of the three leading causes of death in the U.S., but the government doesn’t adequately track it as it does deaths from automobiles, plane crashes, and cancer. It’s appalling.”

Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services tool Hospital Compare tracks limited information voluntarily reported by participating hospitals regarding patient care and outcomes for certain medical conditions.

In rating hospitals, Consumer Reports used data from Hospital Compare and from The Leapfrog Group, an independent organization that collects data from hospitals answering their voluntary survey and provides consumers with an online comparison tool.

“The public assumes that someone keeps track of all that goes wrong, but that is just not the case,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

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