ST. PETERSBURG — A new review of hospital data by Consumer Reports shows one of the most unsafe hospitals in the nation for seniors is St. Petersburg General.
In an analysis of Medicare data for some 2,500 U.S. hospitals, St. Petersburg General, which is owned by for-profit chain HCA, scored poorly for surgical deaths, excessive radiation exposure and bloodstream infections that health officials say can largely be prevented. Out of an overall score of 100, St. Petersburg General received a 25, tying with three other hospitals for 10th worst in the United States.
"It's clear there are some issues there," said Doris Peter, associate director of Consumer Reports Health.
Robert B. Conroy Jr., chief executive officer of St. Petersburg General Hospital, said in a statement that his facility has received numerous honors related to patient care. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and its cancer program is accredited by the American College of Surgeons.
"Patient safety is an integral part and a high priority of our hospital's overall quality program," he said.
No Tampa Bay area hospital scored high on Consumer Reports' 100-point scale. Faring best locally were Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida Hospital North Pinellas in Tarpon Springs and South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, all scoring 59 points each.
Florida's highest ranked hospital was the not-for-profit Parrish Medical Center (68) in Titusville. The highest scoring hospital nationwide was Maine's Miles Memorial Hospital (78).
The Consumer Reports analysis comes as patients face a growing — and confusing — array of hospital ratings by various organizations. Tampa General Hospital, for instance, was named the second best hospital in Florida last year by U.S. News & World Report. But Consumer Reports gave TGH only a 43.
Tampa General spokesman John Dunn noted some of the scoring dates back several years and was based partly on billing data submitted to Medicare, not clinical data. Billing information can reveal, for instance, if a patient was readmitted, but not everyone agrees it's the most accurate measure.
"People need to be cautious in how they look at these surveys," Dunn said.
Patient safety is a growing concern in the health care industry. Hospital mistakes contribute to the deaths of 440,000 U.S. patients each year, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Patient Safety. That makes patient harm the third leading cause of death, trailing only heart disease and cancer, according to Consumer Reports, which is featuring the survey in its May issue.
Also on Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its own eye-opening report on the impact of hospital-acquired infections.
One in 25 patients in U.S. hospitals picks up an infection during their stay, the CDC now estimates. That translates to about 648,000 patients, 75,000 of whom die as a result.
Consumer Reports found that for every 1,000 surgical patients who develop serious complications in a top-rated hospital, 87 or fewer die. But in a low-rated one, more than 132 die.
"The differences between high-scoring hospitals and low-scoring ones can be a matter of life and death," said Dr. John Santa, medical director of Consumer Reports Health, in a statement.
The scores are based on mortality, readmission rates, overuse of CT scans, hospital-acquired infections and communication. Within the patient death component, researchers examined so-called "medical mortality" (heart and pneumonia patients who die within 30 days of entering the hospital) and "surgical mortality" (patients who develop serious but treatable complications like blood clots and die in the hospital).
The survey is based solely on data from Medicare, the government insurance program for seniors and the disabled. This publicly available information frequently is used by health researchers because it includes millions of patients.
While BayCare Health System's Morton Plant and South Florida Baptist Hospitals were among the top local performers, some of its other facilities, such as St. Anthony's, didn't do as well.
Dr. Charles DeShazer, chief quality officer of BayCare, said officials have been well aware of some of the Medicare data showing shortcomings and have launched several initiatives aimed at improving care. "We're very serious about this," he said, adding that BayCare's goal is to exceed the national benchmarks on all key measurements.
He said patients should use the Consumer Reports list as a handy "data point" but also look at other surveys and talk with friends and relatives about their hospital experiences.
St. Petersburg General falls below standards on several items, including the rate of bloodstream infections due to the improper insertion of central lines, and the rate of urinary tract infections associated with catheter use, according to the report. The CDC considers such infections preventable through proper hygiene practices.
Medicare data also shows St. Petersburg General unnecessarily performed CT chest scans of the same patient twice on the same day at a stunningly higher rate — 43.4 percent — than the national average of 3.7 percent, possibly causing excessive radiation exposure.
Preventing double scanning "is a clear safety measure that hospitals could get right if they implemented a fix to it," Peter said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.