A recent study shows that your chances of medical complications and death vary widely from hospital to hospital. But that patient outcome data remains largely hidden from consumers trying to make informed choices about where they’ll have their medical procedures performed.

At the worst hospitals, you are 13 times more likely to suffer a serious medical complication and three times more likely to die than you are at the best hospitals, according to the study, published in the academic journal PLOS One.

The study’s authors analyzed records from 22 million hospital admissions, collected from both Medicare and private insurers. They adjusted for several factors including age, income and how sick patients were when they entered the hospital. The results show the rates of certain negative outcomes, such as death, infection, pressure ulcers and pulmonary embolism, for different geographic areas.

However, the study does not reveal specifically which hospitals had which outcome rates, because in order to receive the data the authors agreed to keep the identities of the hospitals anonymous. And, the authors only compiled patient outcome data for about half the country. (Data from Michigan hospitals was not available, for example.)

Even with those limitations, the study provides great insight into the state of hospital quality in the U.S. In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, the rate of postoperative sepsis (a life-threatening complication from infection) was 25 to 28 per thousand patients. But in nearby Burlington, it was just six to nine per thousand.

Interestingly, the study found no correlation between patient wealth and the rate of negative hospital outcomes. In other words, there were hospitals serving high-income areas with poor outcomes, and there were hospitals serving low-income populations with excellent outcomes. One of the study’s authors told The New York Times that, in general, hospitals with a high-volume of cases had better outcome rates than those with low case volume.

The study concluded that the outcomes are most likely driven by “factors inside the institutions themselves, such as specific care protocols, hospital culture and the experience of clinical teams – information that is not publically available.”

So, if you are lucky enough to get to select the hospital where you’ll be treated, how do you make an informed choice? Or, if you or a loved one is facing surgery at a specific hospital, how do you arm yourself with information about potential problems at that hospital?

There is some information available to the public. Authors of the PLOS One study have made a database of their information available online that could give you some clues about which areas have the best and worst outcome rates for different complications. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons maintains a hospital database to which hospitals voluntarily submit their mortality rates for a few types of surgery, such as congenital heart surgery or aortic valve replacement.

Medicare maintains a database of hospitals on its Hospital Compare website, but it has been widely criticized for the metrics it uses for its star-rating system.

It may also be helpful to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional about hospital quality in your area and specific steps you can take to avoid complications. If you have already experienced post-operative complications that you feel are the result of hospital negligence, contact the Medical Malpractice attorneys at Sommers Schwartz to discuss your situation.


Richard L. Groffsky

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Richard L. Groffsky

Richard Groffsky focuses his practice on medical malpractice and personal injury litigation, and has represented victims of devastating brain injuries and birth injuries in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, South Carolina, and Georgia in significant brain injury and birth injury cases.