Death Rate 70% Lower at Top U.S. Hospitals

Oct. 15 --

TUESDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The death rate at top-ranked U.S. hospitals is 70 percent lower than at the lowest-ranked hospitals, according to a study that examined 41 million patient records at the nation's approximately 5,000 hospitals over three years.

The 11th annual HealthGrades Hospital Quality in America Study focused on 17 procedures and found that overall death rates declined by 14.7 percent from 2005 to 2007. Top-performing five-star hospitals reduced their death rates at a much faster rate (about 13.2 percent) than poorer-performing one- and three-star hospitals (12.3 and 13.1 percent, respectively), resulting in large state, regional and hospital-to-hospital variations in the quality of patient care.

The study also concluded that if all U.S. hospitals performed at the level of top-rated five-star hospitals, 237,420 Medicare patient deaths could potentially have been prevented from 2005 to 2007. More than half (54 percent) of those deaths were associated with four conditions: sepsis (a life-threatening illness caused by systemic response to infection); pneumonia; heart failure; and respiratory failure.

The East North Central region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) had the lowest overall risk-adjusted death rates, while the East South Central region (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee) had the highest death rates, according to the study released Oct. 14.

The East North Central region had the highest percentage of best-performing hospitals at 26 percent. Less than 7 percent of hospitals within the New England region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) were top-performing hospitals.

The greatest hospital death rate variations between states were noted in patients with heart failure, and those undergoing pulmonary, stroke and cardiac surgery.

"Geography should not be a major factor in patients' outcomes. If our nation's hospitals are to close the quality gap and guarantee an equally high level of medical care for every patient, no matter where he or she lives, it will require a commitment by our nation and its communities to demand more from quality improvement," said study author Dr. Samantha Collier, HealthGrades chief medical officer.

"Until then, it is imperative that anyone seeking medical care at a hospital do their homework and know the hospital's quality rating before they check in," Collier said in a news release issued by HealthGrades, an independent healthcare ratings organization.

The 17 procedures and conditions analyzed in the study were: bowel obstruction; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; coronary bypass surgery; coronary interventional procedures (angioplasty/stent); diabetic acidosis and coma; gastrointestinal bleed; gastrointestinal surgeries and procedures; heart attack; heart failure; pancreatitis; pneumonia; pulmonary embolism; resection/replacement of the abdominal aorta; respiratory failure; sepsis; stroke; and valve replacement surgery.

HealthGrades used the study findings for its 2009 quality ratings for all nonfederal hospitals in the United States, which can be found at

More information

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has more about choosing a hospital.

SOURCE: HealthGrades, news release, Oct. 14, 2008