Last month, U.S. News & World Report unveiled the broadest expansion of its hospital rankings in 25 years. With release of the Best Hospitals for Common Care, patients now have access to volume and outcome ratings for common surgical procedures and medical conditions that account for millions of hospitalizations each year.

Will patients start opting for hospitals that perform well in the Common Care ratings?

In the short term, probably not. Here’s why:

  1. Patients want care that’s close to home: Patients would rather receive care from doctors with whom they have an established relationship and be near their support system even if a high-ranking facility is just a short drive away. In fact, nearly one in five patients would choose to have surgery at a local hospital with a death rate of 18 percent over driving two hours to a regional hospital with a death rate of 3 percent.
  2. Everyone’s a winner: 90 percent of the nearly 5,000 hospitals rated achieved a High Performing or Average rating. This is actually a detriment because patients tend to let emotional rather than rational thought guide their health care seeking decisions. Distracted by pain or other symptoms, unless their preferred hospital is Below Average, they’re not likely to seek care elsewhere.
  3. Care that’s only common to some: The new ratings account for millions of hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries. According to the Agency for Health Care Quality Research, the six most common hospital procedures are associated with maternal and newborn care.
  4. Too much of a good thing: It’s well demonstrated that hospitals with higher volumes tend to have better outcomes. However, not all high volume providers are created equal. In fact, research shows as many as three in 10 knee replacements (one of the Common Care procedures) were unnecessary. 

In the future, these ratings and others will have a growing impact on patients’ health seeking behaviors.

  1. The more they pay, the more they’ll care: Over time, patients will become more comfortable using quality data. This is especially true among patients with high deductible health plans who will need to become more savvy if they want to get the best value for their money.
  2. Getting into the act: To help speed things along some hospital systems, including Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania Health System are encouraging patients to use ratings and rankings (including those offered by U.S. News & World Report) by offering resources to help them compare quality among hospitals within their system.
  3. It’s a generational thing: Patients in the 34 to 65 age group are far more likely to use quality ratings than people over age 65, according to a Pew Internet study. As quality measurement evolves to include more ratings that are relevant to this group, their value to your patients will rise as well.

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