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Consumer reports ranks best hospitals in nation for surgery

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DENVER -- The consumer watchdog Consumer Reports has compiled a ranking of the best and worst hospitals in the country.

They used Medicare data of the percentage of patients undergoing surgery who either died in the hospital or had to stay longer than expected. The study looked at 2,463 U.S. hospitals from 2009 to 2011.

“The beauty of this approach is that preventable complications correlate with post-operative length of stay,” Arnold Millstein, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Clinical Excellence Research Center at Stanford University, told Consumer Reports. “This is about as good as complications measurement can be when using existing claims data."

LINK: Hospital Compare from Medicare.gov

Individual rankings are only available to paid subscribers, but Consumer Reports did release generalities including:

-- Teaching hospitals, which often are the recipients of generous federal funding, often fell short in the surgery ratings. On average, teaching hospitals performed no better than other hospitals.
-- Urban hospitals often did well despite serving poorer, sicker patients. Rural hospitals actually did better, on average, than other hospitals.
-- Hospital choice matters for some procedures more than it does for others. One hospital could be especially talented in hip and knee replacements, while but not in other areas such as colon surgery and hysterectomy.
-- Specialty hospitals on average did better.

The study included 42 Colorado hospitals. Nine earned the highest overall surgery rating including Avista Adventist in Boulder, McKee Medical in Loveland, and Porter Adventist and Exempla St. Joseph in Denver.

LINK: Colorado Hospital Report Card

Only one hospital received the lowest score -- St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco.

"We have outstanding hospitals in Colorado and that is reflected in the ratings," said Julian Kesner of the Colorado Hospital Association.

View Hospital Rankings by Consumer Reports in a full screen map

Kesner urged however that no one should reply on just one rating system for health care decisions.

"The best place to start is to talk with a doctor. Talk with your friends and family about their experiences," Kesner said. "Take ratings with a grain of salt."

Consumer Reports did release a Top 10 list of hospitals (including two in Colorado) that did well across a broad range of surgeries. They are:

• Anne Arundel Medical Center,  Annapolis, Md.
• Christ Hospital, Cincinnati
• Enloe Medical Center, Chico, Calif.
• Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore
• Memorial Health System, Colorado Springs, Colo.
• Oklahoma Heart Hospital, Oklahoma City
• Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Colorado Springs, Colo.
• Scripps Green Hospital, La Jolla, Calif.
• Trinity Rock Island, Rock Island, Ill.
• Yavapai Regional Medical Center, Prescott, Ariz.

Hospital data on complications after surgery now available to public

Hospitals routinely track complications after surgery. Consumer Reports said up to 30 percent of patients suffer infections, heart attacks, strokes, or other complications after surgery and sometimes even die as a result.

The data is reported to state and federal regulators, but that information was hidden from consumers, until now.

The information is "a breakthrough because we are finally able to learn what the federal government has known for a long time about the performance of hospitals," said Leah Binder, president and CEO of a patient safety group called the Leapfrog Group.

"Finally you and I and people can look at the data and make sense of it and use it to save our lives," Binder said.