Representatives of a statistics-minded health information company and a splashy cable TV network best known for its live Internet broadcast of a vaginal birth are crisscrossing the country together, giving out awards for the best hospitals in the nation's top 20 healthcare markets.
Baltimore-based HCIA, which each year publishes a listing of the nation's 100 top hospitals, and Orlando, Fla.-based American Health Network announced Sept. 9 their first annual Mercury Awards to Boston-area hospitals. On Oct. 7 they announced awards to Chicago-market hospitals. The awards rank all hospitals in a given market on quality of care, patient service and market reputation.
"We were really wanting to deal in some way with a consumer view, but we didn't think we had the tools to do it," said HCIA Senior Vice President John Morrow. HCIA and American Health Network used existing public-domain resources from HCFA's Medicare data to measure consumer preference.
The awards rate hospitals overall and in the three specialties of oncology, cardiology and orthopedics. Like HCIA's benchmark ratings, they rely on standard quality measures such as mortality, length of stay and complications.
But HCIA also used consumer-oriented measures, such as staffing ratios and a hospital's drawing power from outside its immediate area, to insert patient and doctor preference (gauged by a doctor's referral of patients to a particular facility) into the rankings equation.
Focus groups held in Dallas and Boston found, for instance, that consumers tend to equate more staff with better care. So in the Mercury Awards ranking system, hospitals with more staff per adjusted bed were scored higher; this is the opposite from HCIA's annual top 100 ranking, where those with fewer staff (and therefore presumed higher efficiency) get higher scores.
Such differences as these put Massachusetts General in Boston, which was not on HCIA's 1997 top 100 list, among the top three in all Mercury Awards categories (an overall ranking, plus rankings in cardiology, oncology and orthopedics).
In the Chicago market, the top-three-rated hospitals overall were: Evanston Hospital Corp., Evanston, Ill.; Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill.; and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago.
Winners in the cardiology ranking were Evanston Hospital, Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., and St. Francis Hospital and Health Center, Blue Island, Ill. Orthopedics winners were Lutheran General, Evanston Hospital and Christ Hospital. Top oncology hospitals were Lutheran General, Evanston Hospital and Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill.
In the Boston market, overall winners, all in Boston, were Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Brigham and Women's Hospital. In oncology, Massachusetts General again headed the list, followed by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Lahey Clinic Hospital, Burlington, Mass. Beth Israel led in cardiology, followed by Massachussetts General and Lahey Clinic. In orthopedics, Massachusetts General led Brigham and Women's Hospital and New England Baptist Hospital, Boston.
Philadelphia market winners will be announced Oct. 13.