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Patient Satisfaction with Hospital Care Gets New Scrutiny

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

March 31, 2008 -- The Medicare program has launched a new era in which the public can readily compare local hospitals on how patients rate them in terms of the courtesy of nurses, how quickly they got help when they pressed the call button, how quiet their room was at night, and more than a dozen other aspects of their care.

On Medicare's "Hospital Compare" Web site, Washington, D.C.–area residents can learn that 48 percent of patients at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., rated their rooms as always quiet at night and that 55 percent of patients said that their room and bathroom were always clean. By comparison, 60 percent of patients at Washington, D.C.'s Sibley Memorial Hospital said their room and bathroom were always clean and 42 percent said the areas around their room was always quiet at night.

Other comparisons look at "how often was your pain well controlled," and "how often did doctors listen carefully to you." About 2,500 hospitals agreed to participate in the survey, which was developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and is known as the "Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Hospital Survey," known as "HCAHPS." The new information added to the site also states how many of certain types of procedures the facility performed and what Medicare paid it for doing so. For example, the site says that at Holy Cross, 20 Medicare patients were treated from October 2005 through September 2006 for a heart attack without complications, with Medicare paying an average of $5,541. The facility treated 61 patients for heart attacks with complications with the payment averaging $13,373.

"Collectively, the quality, patient satisfaction, volume, and pricing information will help us assure patients and their families that they have the information they need about the care they are receiving while serving as a catalyst to continue to improve the care delivered in our nation's hospitals," said Kerry Weems, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, predicted that "the new HCAHPS data may become the most helpful aspect of the Hospital Compare Web site because it's easily understandable and reflects the very tangible experience of patients." Representatives of senior groups, labor unions, and health care purchasers praised the new ratings. AARP Policy Director John Rother said his organization would encourage its members to use the site. "We also hope physicians and health plans will consider it when they make decisions about hospital referrals and contracting," he said.

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