The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

December 7, 2012

Make hospital grades usable

The Department of Health last week released data showing the rate of patients getting infections while hospitalized increased at Geisinger Medical Center from 2010 to 2011 — in the process, hitting its highest rate in at least five years. The same report revealed that the infection rate at Geisinger was higher than at other nearby hospitals and the statewide average. Geisinger officials maintained that the hospital’s infection rate is due to two main factors: Steps taken at the hospital to alleviate the problem have not shown up in the statewide reports yet, and Geisinger may do a better job of documenting infections when they occur.

Health officials warn, though, that it is not always clear whether one is making apples-to-apples comparisons when the data from separate facilities are placed alongside one another. There is a clear need for access to this type of information, and consumer groups and their lobbying organizations have begun to translate the government data into terms that the general public can understand.

A health care report card found that Geisinger was one of 37 hospitals in the Commonwealth that were given A’s for health safety. Geisinger was ranked as the top performer in a number of measures, including nursing workforce, an organizational commitment toward safety and physician staffing in the intensive care unit.

Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg was among the 30 hospitals in Pennsylvania given B grades.

Shamokin Area Community Hospital, now part of the Geisinger Health System, was given a C.

Sunbury Community Hospital was not included in the report card.

The report card was one of the grading mechanisms featured in the latest AARP bulletin as the senior advocacy group highlighted ways that consumers can inform themselves before deciding where to seek medical care.

For a graying population, it is a decision many will have to make. People over the age of 65 make up 12 percent of the general population, but 35 percent of hospital stays involve seniors.

There is an abundance of data on health outcomes of those seeking medical care. Those in the health care industry, and in the agencies that regulate that industry, ought to consider how to present the information in a way that is useful to consumers as well as health care executives.

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