Once again this summer, area hospitals are under a microscope, graded for quality, then given an overall patient rating.
And once again, the conclusion is that some hospitals are better than others. In July, this column discussed an earlier survey of area hospitals based on how well they handled patients with heart attacks, heart disease and pneumonia. This new national survey, based on the feedback of 731 nurses and more than 13,000 patients, takes a broader look based on the quality of doctor and nurse communications, room cleanliness and discharge instructions.
Normally, I'd avoid writing a column on the same topic just a few weeks apart. But hospital quality is about as important a topic as I can think of. I would not do this if two surveys ranked fast-food chains — though, come to think of it, fast-food intake and hospitals are closely linked topics.
Thirty-two hospitals are rated in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Manatee counties in the September 2009 Consumer Reports magazine and its accompanying ConsumerReportsHealth.org Web site.
The top-ranked area hospitals out of a potential score of 100: Lakewood Ranch Medical Center (72) in Bradenton, Morton Plant Hospital (71) in Clearwater and St. Joseph's Hospital (68) in Tampa. The lowest-ranked hospitals: Northside Hospital & Heart Institute (39) in St. Petersburg, South Bay Hospital (40) in Sun City Center and Brandon Regional Hospital (40). A full list appears at our Web site at money.tampabay.com.
How did they fare against other hospitals in the state? Seventeen Florida hospitals elsewhere rated higher, with Sacred Heart Hospital in Destin getting the highest grade: 93. Only one hospital in the state rated lower than Northside: Lehigh Regional in Lehigh Acres, which scored 38.
Most area hospitals fared poorly in the quality of instructions provided to patients when discharged. Room cleanliness — the lack of it — also factored among lower rated hospitals.
Consumer Reports found that about 4 percent of patients saw problems with hospital cleanliness, compared with 28 percent of nurses. And 13 percent of patients said their care wasn't coordinated properly, while 38 percent of nurses said that was a problem. The occasional failure of hospital staffers to wash their hands was noted by 5 percent of patients, but 26 percent of nurses.
Please take all these rankings with a reality check. Your experience may differ. Your proximity to any of these hospitals can still be a huge factor influencing your decision to go there — or elsewhere.
Let's clarify one matter. In my July 11 column on hospital quality, Tampa's Memorial Hospital ranked low in a national survey based on heart-related mortality rates. But Dr. Eric Harrison, medical director of cardiology for IASIS Healthcare in Franklin, Tenn., (which owns Memorial as well as Palms of Pasadena and Town & Country hospitals here, all three rated 51 in the latest Consumer Reports survey), suggests I oversimplified the interpretation of that survey's findings.
A closer look at Memorial's data, he said, would show negligible if any difference with most of the average U.S. hospital performances. Fair enough.
This much I know for sure: As potential patients, we are all a lot better off with multiple surveys of hospital care and quality than none at all.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.