Columbia, SC (Written by Liv Osby/Greenville Online) -- A new national scorecard designed to give consumers an easy way to rate hospital quality and safety shows that more than two-thirds of South Carolina's hospitals got As or Bs.
While some patient safety advocates hailed it as a good step toward improving care, some hospital officials criticized its methodology as flawed.
The Hospital Safety Score released Wednesday offers the first letter grade system for evaluating quality. It was developed by a panel of experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the nonprofit Leapfrog Group based on 26 measures such as hospital-acquired infections, medical errors like medication mix-ups and objects left inside after surgery, and injuries like bedsores that can be fatal.
Every year, more than 180,000 Americans die from hospital accidents, errors and infections, one in four Medicare patients acquires a potentially fatal condition while hospitalized, and there's one medication error per day per hospital patient, according to Leapfrog, a coalition of businesses and other purchasers of health benefits.
The majority of Columbia hospitals scored a "C," including: Palmetto Richland Memorial, Providence Hospital, Palmetto Baptist Medical Center, and Providence Hospital. Newberry County Memorial also was given a "C" grade.
The other Midlands-area hospitals listed fared better: Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia scored the only "A," while "B" grades were given to Kershaw County Medical Center in Camden, and Tuomey Healtcare System in Sumter.
Dr. Rick Foster, senior vice president of quality and patient safety of the South Carolina Hospital Association, said that even though members support quality improvement and transparency, the scorecard methodology has never been used before and it hasn't been determined whether it's reliable. Also, some measures were validated and some weren't, he said.
He also said Leapfrog included measures from its voluntary national safety survey, which not all hospitals completed.
"Because Leapfrog chose to use a significant number of measures only on its survey, that creates a question about the reliability of scoring," he said. "We understand there's a need to find a better way to inform consumers. But it does not allow for an equal comparison from hospital to hospital."
The American Hospital Association also said many of the measures Leapfrog used were flawed and "do not accurately portray a picture of the safety efforts made by hospitals."
Dr. Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health who provided advice in developing the scorecard, said the safety issue is a major problem.
"This a good step forward in giving consumers information they can use to choose safer hospitals," he told GreenvilleOnline.Com.
Jha said the scorecard is based on the most credible and valid publicly reported data. Hospitals that didn't participate in the survey still got credit because Leapfrog went to secondary sources of that information, he said.
While the experts gave advice, Leapfrog made the final decision on what to include, Jha said, adding the choices were "very reasonable and based on the best available data."
Noting that most large teaching hospitals got a C, Heather Bendyk, director of quality services for Spartanburg Regional, questioned the methodology.
"The majority of measures they used were not endorsed by the National Quality Forum, which is considered the gold standard," she said.
Bendyk added that the data weren't adjusted for severity of patients.
Jha said when the scoring first was done he worried that teaching hospitals or those caring for the sickest patients would have lower scores. But he said his analysis of the grades didn't show that.
"My big concerns were size, teaching and acuity. But there were teaching hospitals that got As, Bs and Cs and there was very little difference in teaching status or how sick the patients are," he said. "And nationally, size didn't matter. Small hospitals, large hosptials did about equally well."
The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston got an A.
Jha said South Carolina hospitals scored better than the national average. Nationally, about 45 percent got a C, he said.
Some hospitals were given a grade of "score pending," which meant they would have gotten a D or F, but Leapfrog gave them more time, Jha said.
Contributing: Derry London