Best and Worst Hospitals for Cardiac Cases Revealed

For the first time, a government study publicly unveils death rates by hospital.

ByABC News
August 20, 2008, 10:53 AM

Aug. 20, 2008— -- Motorists heading through the Lehigh Valley from Allentown, Pa., earlier this year passed two giant billboards proclaiming: "Fast Heart Attack Care Saved My Husband's Life."

What the billboards didn't say was just how fast. It took 24 minutes for Richard Silverman's doctors at Lehigh Valley Hospital to clear a 100% blockage from his heart's most vital artery. That's a third of the 90-minute goal that hospitals strive for.

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"Maybe five minutes more and I'd be gone," Silverman, 63, co-owner of Pro-dent, a dental laboratory in Allentown, says his doctor told him.

Doctors at Lehigh Valley are proud of their speed. It's one reason the hospital boasts the lowest heart attack death rate in the country, 11.6%, in a new government analysis obtained by USA TODAY. Among those at the other end of the spectrum is Virginia's Danville Regional Medical Center with death rates for heart attack of 19.6% and for heart failure of 15.5%.

Until today, hospital death rates were closely guarded secrets, discussed in board rooms but beyond the reach of patients whose lives are on the line. That changed this morning when USA TODAY posted on its website the government's best estimates of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia death rates for every U.S. hospital for two years.

Now anyone with access to a computer can directly compare a local hospital with the one across town to see how it stacks up against the biggest medical institutions nationwide.

Death rates from heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia are widely viewed as yardsticks of a hospital's overall performance.

"We're in an era of change at last," says Donald Berwick, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a non-profit in Cambridge, Mass., that works with hospitals to improve care and eliminate errors.

Last year, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a broad comparison of death rates for heart attacks and heart failure, noting how hospitals compared with the national average — better, worse or no different — without releasing the death rates themselves.

This year the agency decided to disclose them to consumers.

The agency shared the information in advance with USA TODAY to reach the widest possible audience. The agency also posted its new mortality estimates on a government website (, along with more than two dozen other measures of how well hospitals meet patients' needs.