Consumer Reports rates hospitals on safety, puts Somerset hospital last in Kentucky; hospital blames its incomplete data

Consumer Reports magazine recently released safety rankings for hospitals across the country, compiled from government data. Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, Maine, received the best safety rating in the U.S., a 78 on a scale of 100. That was 12 points higher than the hospital labeled Kentucky’s safest, Georgetown Community Hospital.

Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset received by far the lowest rating in Kentucky, a 20. That was eight points below the next-lowest Kentucky hospital and nine points above Bolivar Medical Center in Cleveland, Miss., which was rated the nation’s least safe hospital.

According to a message to the community prepared by Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital officials, “The information used to calculate the Consumer Reports scores does not provide an accurate picture of our hospital’s quality and safety performance,” because “We learned several years ago that we had not been submitting complete clinical information to Medicare.” The hospital employed a clinical documentation improvement program that helped quality scores back into the expected ranges. Because the report featured data from 2009-2012, these improvements were not represented in the results, according to the message. Mark Brenzel, CEO of the hospital, said current information “reflects a much better score for the various quality indicators that they used.” The hospital is owned by LifePoint Hospitals of Brentwood, Tenn.

The safety ratings are based on data gathered from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The five categories are occurrences of hospital acquired infections, unnecessary readmissions, mortality, communication about new medications, and appropriate use of scanning. Each categories counts for up to 20 points. Rankings by city, state, and county are available here. Some hospitals have not been rated because they did not have all the valid data measures needed to calculate the score.

“The average score for hospitals is just 51, and 43 hospitals got a score below 30,” Consumer Reports said. John Santa, M.D., medical director of Consumer Reports Health, said “It is unacceptable that so many hospitals are doing so poorly. Especially since our ratings show that some hospitals can do a good job at keeping patients safe.”

Unfortunately, approximately “440,000 hospital patients a year die at least in part because of preventable medical errors,” Consumer Reports said. This figure is based on a comprehensive analysis published in the Journal of Patient Safety, a peer-reviewed medical journal. “What matter is that too many people are dying in hospitals because of medical mistakes, not enough is being done to stop it, and patients need more information,” author John James said.

UPDATE, April 4: There are many forms of hospital rankings, some done with questionable business practices such as “licensing fees” they get from hospitals, notes Pia Christensen of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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