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Federal Web site compares treatments at area hospitals

Tom Graham The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Just what we’ve been waiting for: a federal Web site – www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov – that compares vital treatments delivered – or not delivered – at every hospital in an area.

“The site shows consumers how often their local hospitals are using procedures known to give patients the best chance of surviving and recovering from heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and other serious illnesses,” said David Schulke, of the American Health Quality Association.

So can you just follow the numbers to find the best hospital for the care you need? Maybe not.

Whether their institutions scored well or not so well on the 17-item scorecard, officials at Washington area hospitals this week urged caution in using the data.

“I wouldn’t want someone to make a decision on this data alone to seek care or not to seek care” at any hospital, said Judy Perry-Ewald, a spokeswoman for Inova Health System, whose four hospitals serving Fairfax County, Va., had perfect or close-to-perfect scores on some items, including the administration of beta blockers within 24 hours of admitting a heart attack patient. In other areas, the Inova institutions were in the middle of the pack and had significantly different scores from one to another. For example, 61 percent of heart failure patients at Inova Fairfax received ACE inhibitors on time, compared with 85 percent at Inova Alexandria.

“The value of this is education,” said Perry-Ewald. “I think you want the consumers to engage with their physicians and caregivers and dialogue around these issues,” both before and during a hospital stay.

Regarding lower-than-average scores, Perry-Ewald said, “It’s either a quality-of-care issue – that the patient didn’t get the particular treatment that’s recommended for that indicator – or it’s a quality-of-documentation issue – the patient actually got the treatment or there was a good reason why they didn’t get the treatment.”

Victor Scott, senior vice president for health sciences at Howard University Hospital, said documentation flaws accounted for “some not-so-stellar stats” earned by his institution.

For example, Howard scored low (31 percent) on giving treatment instructions to heart failure patients who were being discharged. In fact, Scott said, “all patients get discharge instructions,” but “we do not have a good tool to document certain aspects of that. … In subsequent reports, there’s not going to be a discrepancy.”

“In general, the folks that we deal with … go by what their doctors tell them to do,” said Arnold Lear, who counsels Montgomery County, Md., seniors on health insurance and related matters. “That’s good if your doctor … has the knowledge that will help you.” As for the new Web site, he said, “it’s a useful guide,” though “how well it’s going to play, I don’t know.”

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