Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie is far from North Texas’ largest hospital, but it’s the safest, according to a new Consumer Reports study.The well-known product testing organization used federal data to grade 2,591 U.S. hospitals, including 47 in the region, on their performance preventing deaths, infections and readmissions, along with the appropriate use of diagnostic scans and the quality of communication with patients. The study found that patients have a 34 percent better chance of surviving a serious complication in the top-rated hospitals than they do in low-rated institutions.Tarrant County had several of the area’s higher-scoring hospitals, including No. 2-ranked Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth and No. 3 (tie) Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital H-E-B. But it also has the second-lowest ranked North Texas hospital, Medical Center of Arlington, part of HCA Healthcare.About 40 North Texas facilities were not yet rated. The median score among North Texas hospitals that were rated was 52, which means that half of all hospitals scored above that score, and half below it.The maximum score was 100, and the highest score for any hospital in the country was 78. Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie earned a 71. The national average was 51.The American Hospital Association called the scoring system and other ratings like it “merely one tool patients can use when making healthcare decisions. Patients should use all available tools at their disposal to identify which health care decisions are right for them.” The group says it represents nearly 5,000 members.Some of the data used by Consumer Reports comes from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services and is used in the government’s Hospital Compare website. Consumer Reports also used data on infections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Deaths stemming from medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals is a subject that has received growing attention since the Institute of Medicine in 1999 estimated that 98,000 Americans died annually from preventable errors. While that figure was considered alarming, by 2010 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services upped the figure to 180,000 a year, and last year the Journal of Patient Safety put it at between 210,000 and 440,000.“The differences between high-scoring hospitals and low-scoring ones can be a matter of life and death,” Dr. John Santa, medical director of Consumer Reports Health, said in a prepared release. He said the differences come in hospitals’ efforts to eliminate mistakes, “from making sure staff communicate clearly with patients about medications, which can help prevent drug errors, to doing all they can to prevent any hospital-acquired infections.” Consumer Reports acknowledged that “no single measure captures everything” regarding hospital safety, and that distinguishing deaths due to errors “is messy, complicated and sometimes controversial.” But it said its ratings “give patients more of the information they need to make informed choices about hospital performance before choosing where to go for care.”Abbi Miller, spokeswoman for Medical Center of Arlington, said the hospital “embraces transparency and ongoing efforts to improve the safety and quality of care for every patient, every day. We are extremely proud of our recent grade of “A” by Hospital Safety Score and The Leapfrog Group.” She said the facility has also been cited for top performance by the Joint Commission, a national accreditation organization, in treating heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care.Leapfrog Group is a voluntary employer group that conducts its own survey.Dallas-based Methodist Health System, whose three rated North Texas hospitals all ranked in the bottom 10 locally, said it uses the same data Consumer Reports employed “in our efforts to continuously improve the patient experience of care.”Dr. Sam Bagchi, its chief quality officer, said “the results of the Consumer Reports analysis for Methodist Dallas are not consistent with the more up-to-date Leapfrog Safety Score, which will be released in April 2014 and reflects the extremely high quality of care for all of our patients.”Methodist Dallas, given a 38 by Consumer Reports, had a “C” in its 2013 survey, according to Leapfrog’s website.Baylor Scott & White Health, noting that it had three of the top five hospitals in North Texas, said it “has made major investments over many years to improve the quality and safety of care we provide our patients.”Dr. Don Kennerly, chief quality officer for its North Texas division, said formal quality goals are set and reviewed monthly, a process that “identifies internal best practices that we then spread to all of our hospitals. When we compare ourselves to other hospital systems nationally on measures reported to CMS, we typically find that our performance is in the top ten percent.”Arlington-based Texas Health, the area’s second-largest hospital system, said it will publish patient safety and quality “dashboard” for all its hospitals in the near future, using mostly clinical data. It also said that a number of “nationally endorsed consensus indicators” exist and are also valuable.
Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay