Over 200 California Auctions End Today - Bid Now

¿Pueden las tarjetas del informe del hospital ahorrar vidas?

por Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | November 23, 2009
Can health grades
improve care?
Hospital report cards might help patients choose a place that best fits their needs, but do the reports actually prompt hospitals to perform better? The answer appears to be a qualified, controversial yes.

Canadian doctors have performed the first randomized, controlled trial on the effect of a hospital learning its "grade" on its practice, and they estimate the experiment, while not prodding huge reforms, might have saved almost 250 lives.

In the decade-in-the-making study published online Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the doctors randomly divided 81 hospital corporations in Ontario, Canada into one of two groups: one group, with 42 hospitals, would learn how well its hospital ranked on 18 "process-of-care" quality indicators for heart attack and heart failure; the other, with 39 hospitals, would only learn its rank on these indicators 21 months later, and the doctors would see which group showed greater improvements over a baseline performance.

The guidelines to be assessed were developed by two expert panels which included leading Canadian cardiologists, and the baselines for care quality were established only after nurses visited the hospitals and actually pulled information off patient charts.

The indicators, 12 for heart attacks and six for heart failure, included whether patients got appropriate diagnostic tests, such as echocardiograms, and whether life-saving medication was given in a timely manner.

The doctors say they chose heart conditions because there were well-established, evidence-based guidelines already in place, and because it's well known that not everybody follows them. "There's a big gap between optimal care and actual care," Jack Tu, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto and lead author of the study, tells DOTmed News. "And there's lots of data in regard to what should be done for these patients, as opposed to choosing conditions where there's not a lot of strong evidence," he adds.

Baseline data were gathered from 1999-2001; early feedback hospitals received their "grades" in January 2004, while late feedback ones got them in September 2005. Hospital quality changes on the indicators were assessed at the end of that period.

What they found

Overall, there were no systemic differences in performance between the two groups. However, it wasn't a complete wash: when the doctors broke down the data, interesting trends emerged, as well as significant differences between the groups.