The San Diego Union-Tribune by Paul Sisson –
July 15, 2013:
The UC San Diego Health System and Scripps Health are celebrating an unprecedented 16 national rankings in medical specialties from cancer to urology, a bounty newly bestowed by U.S News & World Report.
The publication’s “Best Hospitals” report, released late Monday night, lists 10 national rankings for UC San Diego Medical Center’s hospitals in La Jolla and Hillcrest and six for Scripps Memorial Hospital (La Jolla) and its sister facility in the same neighborhood, Scripps Green Hospital.
A growing number of organizations publish quality rankings for hospitals, measuring everything from patient safety to financial efficiency.
Now in its 24th year, “Best Hospitals” is the granddaddy — and arguably still the best-known — of those evaluations. This year, analysts scrutinized nearly 5,000 hospitals and highlighted the top 50 in each of 16 medical specialties. Only 147 medical centers were ranked nationally in at least one specialty.
The latest results set a new high-water mark for the University of California San Diego and Scripps.
A university official said that the health system’s previous record total was seven national rankings in 2006; for Scripps, it was three in 2002 and 2003.
The rankings are based on federal data on patient survival rates, infection rates, patient safety, nurse-to-patient ratios and other criteria related to the specialties. Structural factors such as total patient volume and running specialty departments — including trauma and organ-transplant centers — are also considered.
Paul Viviano, chief executive of the UC San Diego Health System, said he believes it was a commitment to boosting key services, like adding specialty doctors in critical-care units, that propelled the university to 10 national rankings.
“It’s a signal of our continued strong investment and improvement in our clinical capabilities,” Viviano said.
Chris Van Gorder, chief executive for Scripps Health, said the rankings are proof that Scripps’ recent work in physician co-management, which gives doctors more of a say in which types of care a patient recieves, are bearing fruit. But he added that it isn’t just physicians who deserve praise.
“The people who get credit for this are the doctors and the technicians and the nurses who come to work every day and make it work,” Van Gorder said.
National rankings are just one part of the report. U.S. News also rates hospitals in each of the country’s metropolitan areas.
This year the analysts examined all 31 hospitals in the San Diego region and decided that only six merited a regional ranking. UC San Diego and Scripps’ two hospitals in La Jolla were listed first and second, respectively. Scripps Mercy Hospital came in third, Sharp Memorial Hospital was ranked fourth, Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas was listed fifth and Sharp Coronado Hospital was ranked sixth.
John Romley, a health care economist with the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics in Los Angeles, said getting ranked, whether nationally or locally, is more than a bouquet of bragging rights.
“For sure, hospitals are going to care about how they’re perceived in their communities, but this also affects their negotiating position when it comes time to sit down with health plans and decide payment rates,” he said.
For consumers, Romley said, looking at the U.S. News rankings is a good starting point but that isn’t the only place where a potential patient can obtain reliable information. More than a dozen organizations now provide hospital quality rankings, and they often disagree on who’s the best in any given market or specialty.
Just because a local facility is not ranked, Romley said, does not mean it should not be considered. He said patients would do well to check out other sources such as medicare.gov/hospitalcompare, a website run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to get a good feel for their local hospital’s quality.
“At this point, assessing health care quality is more of an art than a science,” Romley said. “There is some disagreement among different rankings, and that points to the fact that this is not perfect information.”
Sharp HealthCare, for example, has no nationally ranked hospitals on the U.S. News list. But it was the 2007 recipient of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, the only performance excellence award given by the president.
While Van Gorder said he is aware of rankings published by other organizations, he regards the U.S. News report as distinctive because it comes from a household name.
“It’s kind of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” he said. “It’s something that the general public looks at.”
UC San Diego’s nationally-ranked specialties include:
• No. 9: Pulmonology
• No. 17: Nephrology
• No. 20: Geriatrics
• No. 22: Urology
• No. 29: Diabetes and Endocrinology
• No. 31: Gastroenterology and GI Surgery
• No. 42: Cancer, Cardiology and Heart surgery, Neurology and Neurosurgery
• No. 48: Ear, nose and throat
Scripps La Jolla’s nationally-ranked specialties include:
• No. 20: Cardiology and Heart Surgery
• No. 33: Gastroenterology and GI Surgery
• No. 37: Gynecology
• No. 41: Urology
• No. 45: Orthopedics
• No. 48: Geriatrics