By Patti Singer
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Hospitals in New York have improved the quality of many of their services over the past several years, but patients are at increased risk of infections during their stay, according to a watchdog group that grades the state's hospitals.
WEB EXTRA: To read the New York State Hospital Report Card, go to www.myhealthfinder.com
The Niagara Health Quality Coalition on Sunday released its 2013 New York State Hospital Report Card, including the safest hospitals and those that have more safety issues to address.
Among 23 facilities that received the organization's America's Safest Hospitals designation were Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel, Putnam County; Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie; White Plains Hospital Center in White Plains; and Rochester General Hospital in Monroe County.
Hospitals on the list had a higher number of better-than-average ratings for results in such conditions as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, hip fracture and a variety of safety indicators.
Highland Hospital in Rochester, Monroe County, was among 17 placed on the watch list. It had a worse-than-average mortality rate in four of the seven mortality measures for which there was enough data to analyze.
Data from more than 200 hospitals in the state were analyzed.
The current report is based on data from 2011 that hospitals used for patient billing and internal quality. The data covers all hospital patients, unlike other quality assessments that consider only Medicare patients, said Niagara Health Quality Coalition president and chief executive officer Bruce CQ Boissonnault.
The data cover a range of procedures and conditions, and put the number of procedures performed at the hospital into the context of a minimum threshold. It is risk-adjusted, which allows for comparison among hospitals regardless of how sick the patients are.
Consumers can search either by condition or procedure, or they can compare hospitals in their area or across the state.
"Consumers are looking for valuable, neutral independent information," Linda Joseph, chairwoman of NHQC's consumer committee and owner of a small business, said during a conference call last week.
Boissonnault said patients should discuss the report with their doctor and not make a decision on their own about where to seek care.
"A lot of times their doctors don't know this information," he said. "They don't know that the hospital to which they refer has a statistically significant worse mortally rate in the thing that the patient is being referred for or could be referred for. We like that, too. Then the doctor puts pressure on the hospital to improve."
Since the nonprofit organization released its first report in 2002, the statewide mortality rate has improved by 50 percent and several indicators of patient safety have also gotten better, Boissonnault said.
But hospital-acquired infections such as sepsis continue to be a concern. The rate of sepsis increased slightly from 2004 to 2011. "I see the trend as alarming," he said.
Unlike other measures in the report card, stopping infections may take community approaches, he said.
Boissonnault said that because patients travel among hospitals, as well as nursing homes, a comprehensive approach is needed.
"The chain of infection control is no stronger than its weakest link," he said.
Patti Singer is a health reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester.