For the first time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has published star ratings for around 3500 hospitals on Hospital Compare, the agency's public information website. 251 hospitals received the highest rating of five stars, 1205 received four stars, 1414 got three stars, 582 got two stars and 101 were awarded only one star.
The Hospital Compare star ratings are related to patient satisfaction with care experiences at acute care hospitals. They're based on data from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (HCAHPS) measures. The survey covers topics such as how well nurses and doctors communicated with patients, how responsive hospital staff were to patient needs, how clean and quiet hospital environments were and how well patients were prepared for post-hospital settings. Hospitals are rated against each other, which basically means they are graded on a curve. CMS says that "a 1-star rating does not mean that you will receive poor care from a hospital."
Interestingly, some of the "top" hospitals in the US received average ratings, while many of the hospitals that received five stars are relatively unknown or are hospitals that provide specialized services. Some states also fared better than others. Hospitals in Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin had the highest scores. Those in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey and New York had the lowest scores.
Hospitals that focus on lucrative elective operations were among those with the highest ratings. According to US News and World Report, those types of hospitals "have traditionally received more positive patient reviews than have general hospitals, because a greater variety of illnesses and chaotic emergency rooms make it more likely patients will have a bad experience."
Hospitals in Illinois that received five stars told the Chicago Tribune their success came from listening to patients' complaints, reducing wait times, encouraging patients to ask questions and resolving billing issues at the bedside instead of waiting until patient checkout. Those with low scores said the star ratings don't "adequately capture the complexities of administering care, especially at facilities that see many low-income patients who often have chronic conditions."
CMS says the goal of the star ratings is to make it easier for consumers to choose a hospital and understand the quality of care they deliver. "Today's announcement builds on a larger effort across HHS to build a healthcare system that delivers better care, spends healthcare dollars more wisely, and results in healthier people," the agency said in a statement.
It's questionable whether or not the star ratings will have much of an effect on consumers' choice of hospitals. Evan Marks, an executive at Healthgrades, told US News and World Report it was unlikely consumers would suddenly begin looking at the CMS ratings unless there's an aggressive effort to raise awareness. "It's nice they’re going to try to be more consumer friendly," he said. "I don’t see that the new star rating itself is going to drive consumer adoption. Ultimately, you can put the best content up on the Web, but consumers aren't going to just wake up one day and go to it."