US News Hospital Ratings Largely Subjective

June 28th, 2010 | Sources: Annals of Int'l Medicine, Medscape

US News & World Report’s influential “top 50” list of US hospitals is driven by subjective reputations of the institutions rather than objective measures of hospital quality, according to a study by Ashwini Sehgal of Case Western Reserve University.

scientificratingsystemTo establish subjective reputations of US hospitals, US News surveys 250 board-certified physicians from around the country. US News also uses objective data including nurse-to-patient ratios, availability of specific medical technology, risk-adjusted mortality for Medicare patients, and teaching status.

In analyzing the relative contributions of subjective vs. objective measures in determining which hospitals made the coveted list, Sehgal “found little relationship between rankings and objective quality measures for most specialties.”

Specifically, he found a strong correlation between a hospital’s rank in the US News list and the hospital’s “reputation score” as measured in the survey. By contrast, a hospital’s rank was variably correlated with the objective scores used by US News.

For example, the top five heart and heart-surgery hospitals based on reputation score alone were the same as those of the US News top five heart hospitals (Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic–Rochester, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Texas Heart Institute).

“Because reputation score is determined by asking approximately 250 specialists to identify the five best hospitals in their specialty, only nationally recognized hospitals are likely to be named frequently,” Sehgal told MedScape. “Users should understand that the relative standings of US News & World Report’s top 50 hospitals largely indicate national reputation, not objective measures of hospital quality.”

“Being well-known may be the result of many factors that are unrelated to the quality of day-to-day care,” commented Harlan Krumholz of the Yale University School of Medicine.

The write-up is in the Annals of Internal Medicine.


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