Two Sharp hospitals are the only facilities in the region to earn A grades as a handful of high-profile facilities saw their scores erode in the latest safety report from the Leapfrog Group, a well-known nonprofit that specializes in health care accountability.
Published Tuesday, the report judges thousands of hospitals nationwide across 27 quality categories, ranging from infection prevention to surgical death rates, issuing letter grades from A through F.
Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego received its fourth-straight A , the longest streak among its peers in San Diego County. Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center jumped from B to A.
Others moved in the opposite direction. UC San Diego Health’s Hillcrest and La Jolla hospitals both got Cs after receiving As just one year ago. The safety grades for Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and Scripps Green Hospital in Torrey Pines both fell from A to B.
Of the 2,500 hospitals that Leapfrog graded nationwide, about 30 percent received As and one percent received Fs. No hospital in San Diego County earned lower than a C.
While some might say that the report card approach to health care quality is a bit simplistic given how complex hospitals are these days, Leapfrog, and the handful of other ratings systems that do similar work, insist that there is enough raw data available, and statistical methods have become advanced enough, to make fair comparisons.
Erica Mobley, Leapfrog’s director of operations, said the items chosen to build hospitals’ composite scores, such as foreign objects left inside patients after surgeries, are selected because they are preventable.
“Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease. There is real variation in how individual hospitals across the United States perform,” Mobley said.
Leapfrog publishes 27 different scores that it uses to build its letter grades and, looking at that finer-grained data, it appears that the majority of hospitals in the region who didn’t earn As continue to struggle with certain kinds of hospital-acquired infections and with deadly but treatable complications after surgery.
It’s important to note that the data used to build letter grades is not up-to-the minute. Performance numbers can be drawn from as far back as 2014.
Patricia Maysent, chief executive of UC San Diego Health, said her hospitals continue to get dinged on some errors that occurred during the 2014-2015 budget year. Current data, she said, shows a different picture.
“I think our most recent performance indicators show a sharp decrease in falls and infections and other events,” Maysent said.
Scripps Health had a similar take, saying in a statement: “We recognized we needed to improve our rates of health care associated infections and launched initiatives two years ago that resulted in significant improvement. Additionally, we are in the process of implementing a new electronic medical record system with computerized physician order entry capabilities to support safer and more efficient care delivery.”
Leapfrog is far from the only hospital ratings system available to consumers, and these proprietary programs often show very different results. For example, both Scripps and UCSD both recently received national rankings for multiple specialties from U.S. News and World Report.
Of course, patients often don’t have much choice in where they go for care. Many HMO insurance plans have specific lists of hospitals where their members can receive care, and going outside that network usually means paying a much larger share of the bill.
Mobley said there are plenty of things that a patient can do to make sure they stack the odds against suffering a preventable infection, surgical error or other painful problem.
“The truth is that no hospitals are perfect,” she said. “All have room to improve when it comes to safety. The most effective thing you can do is make sure that everyone who comes into your room is washing their hands every time they interact with you.”
In addition, patients do better, she said, when they arrive at the hospital with a list of all medications they’re currently taking to prevent interactions with drugs they might be prescribed during their stays. Having a loved one present as much as possible to observe the care that’s being given also helps reduce the chance of errors.
Leapfrogs spring 2018 hospital letter grades for San Diego County hospitals are:
- Alvarado Hospital, C
- Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, B
- Palomar Medical Center, C
- Pomerado Hospital, B
- Scripps Green Hospital, B
- Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, C
- Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, B
- Scripps Mercy Hospital of Chula Vista, B
- Scripps Mercy Hospital of San Diego, C
- Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, A
- Sharp Grossmont Hospital, B
- Sharp Memorial Hospital, A
- Tri-City Medical Center of Oceanside, C
- UC San Diego Hillcrest Medical Center, C
- UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center, C
Mobley said Paradise Valley Hospital in National City and Sharp Coronado Hospital were not issued letter grades in the latest report due to a problem with certain data published by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Rady Children’s Hospital is not included, because Leapfrog does not grade children’s hospitals.
For more information on each hospitals safety grades, or to look up facilities outside San Diego County, visit hospitalsafety.org.