June 22, 2007 / 7:35 AM / 11 years ago

Government posts hospital death rates for heart ailments

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The government posted mortality data on Thursday for the nation’s thousands of hospitals for heart attacks and heart failure, in an effort to shed light on which hospitals provide the best care.

Beds lie empty in the emergency room of Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans, February 14, 2006. The government posted mortality data on Thursday for the nation's thousands of hospitals for heart attacks and heart failure, in an effort to shed light on which hospitals provide the best care. REUTERS/Lee Celano

Health care in the United States is notorious for its lack of transparency — for both the price of goods and services, as well as the quality of care provided by doctors and hospitals.

The new mortality data updates a year-old project by the Department of Health and Human Services, contrasting prices and experience at the nation’s 4,500 acute-care hospitals. The government’s Web site compares 31 elective hospital procedures such as heart valve operations, gallbladder removal and hernia operations.

“We don’t yet have the Formula One version. We have the go cart version,” Secretary Mike Leavitt said during a briefing on the government’s efforts to make hospitals — which get a large portion of their revenue from government health programs — more accountable.

The new measures track 30-day mortality following a heart attack and heart failure and make risk adjustments for a patient’s health, age and other factors.

Hospitals are rated in-line with the national average, above average, or below average for the two heart conditions. Just seven hospitals were rated worse-than-average for death rates following a heart attack, while 17 were rated better-than- average.

In heart failure, 38 hospitals scored a top rating, while 35 scored a worse-than-average for that measure.

The small numbers reflect a conservative approach taken by the consortium, which developed the measures, and included researchers from Harvard and Yale Universities.

During the 1980s, the government tried releasing hospital quality data, but the industry revolted and they were eventually scrapped.

“From the start, we tried to draw them into the reporting process without hospitals flipping out. We think it’s the beginning of something that will be more aggressive,” said Gerry Shea, assistant to the president for government affairs at the American Federation of Labor-and Congress of Industry Organization.

The union, which is involved in the project, negotiates benefits for 40 million workers.

Experts said the data, which is available at hospitalcompare.gov, is not yet in the most user-friendly form for consumers.

“I don’t think it’ll be of much value to consumers because most, even if they were interested, will probably be in a community where there is neither a high or low-ranked hospital,” said Paul Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a research group not involved with the project.

But he added: “If I were on a hospital board, and my hospital got a low (rating), I’d really want to put pressure on the staff to tell me what’s wrong.”

In the first year with the pricing and experience measures, the Web page had 36 million page views, officials said.

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