Do needles hurt less? Featured

1:06pm EDT August 28, 2006
When a national magazine like U.S. News & World Report singles out a hospital like Akron General Medical Center as one of the top health care providers in the country, what does it really mean to patients and others in the area? Is there any validity to such rankings? Is it a guarantee of good service? Will needles hurt less?

Mike Petrochuk, director of planning, strategy and market research for Akron General Health System, says winning an award is recognition of an organization’s performance based upon the selection criteria.

While awards are a good place to start looking, Petrochuk says consumers are best advised to consider a variety of sources — including their physician’s advice and the experience of friends — when choosing a hospital.

Is going to an award-winning hospital a guarantee of getting good service?
No award is a guarantee of exemplary service. Most of the awards capture public data and conduct a series of statistical analyses and comparisons.

The only organization that I’m aware of that surveys the general public is the National Research Corporation. It annually publishes the most-preferred hospitals within many markets within the United States.

Many awards are specific to departments (cardiac, neonatal). Does this mean a patient should only consider a hospital for an area where it has won awards? Or does excellence in one area rub off on others?
Keep in mind that not every hospital provides a full range of services. Patients need to determine whether the services that they need are even offered by their local hospital. Similarly, patients should look at a number of information sources — not just hospital rankings — when making a decision. You should gather information from your doctor, family members or friends. Some hospitals even publish quality data right on their Web sites.

What does the health care industry consider the true awards for best clinical and business practices?
There are many awards or honors that a hospital can receive. Each of them has its own unique perspectives and strengths. We look at recognition from a variety of sources ... from our patients, physicians, community, and other external benchmarking and regulatory agencies.

In the end, the highest award comes from the patients and families that we serve.

What does the U.S. News & World Report award mean?
This recognition means that we rated higher than most other hospitals based upon the magazine’s unique criteria. The award is another validation of a high level of quality and service. It also provides recognition for physicians and employees.

Is there any validity to such rankings?
There is no one ranking that can perfectly assess ‘the best hospital.’ We look at — and patients should look at — hospitals that are recognized across the different ranking organizations. Looking at many of these rankings paints a more complete picture of the hospital’s performance.

How do the award programs gather information for their decisions? Does the award find the institution, or do institutions go after these awards?
For the past 17 years, U.S. News & World Report’s ‘America’s Best Hospital’ award has been given annually to hospitals in 16 different areas. Data is derived from public information (Medicare and American Hospital Association databases) and other accrediting agencies.

There are probably hospitals that aggressively seek these types of awards. We’re focused on our mission and service to the community. In the end, being recognized by the magazine is ‘icing on the cake.’

Really, how much better is the No. 1 hospital than the No. 5 — or even the No. 5 from the No. 50 hospital?
U.S. News & World Report ranks the top 50 hospitals in each of their specialty areas. While there are some statistical nuances between the No. 1 and No. 50 hospitals, one can’t make a conclusion that the No. 1 hospital is 10 times better than the No. 10 hospital. We’re proud to be included and ranked highly on the ratings.

MIKE PETROCHUK is director of planning, strategy and market research for Akron General Health System. He holds a doctorate in business from Cleveland State University and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Reach him at (330) 344-6984.