You’re 3 Times More Likely to Die at Some Hospitals Than Others

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The closest hospital might not always be your best choice, an expert notes.

Where you live can determine whether you live or die after being treated at the nearest hospital.

A new study of more than 22 million hospital admissions found that patients in hospitals ranked as low-performing based on medical outcomes were three times more likely to die — and 13 times more likely to experience complications — than patients in high-performing hospitals.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) describes the study as “the most comprehensive analysis of health outcomes variation in the United States to date.”

It was conducted by BCG and researchers from several academic and medical institutions. They analyzed 24 specific health outcomes, including illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, of hospital admissions across states where more than half of the U.S. population lives.

The findings were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study revealed large variations in hospital performance across different regions. These variations could not be fully explained by regional differences in patient demographics, health or health systems.

For example, the study found:

  • The probability of dying in the hospital after an acute event like a heart attack or stroke is more than twice as high at low-performing hospitals (defined as those in the bottom 10 percent) compared with high-performing hospitals (those in the top 10 percent).
  • Patients are nearly 20 times more likely to experience an infection of the bloodstream related to a central venous catheter at low-performing hospitals compared with high-performing hospitals. A central venous catheter, also known as simply a “central line,” is a catheter inserted into a large vein, like those found in the neck or groin, for example.

Lead study author Dr. Barry Rosenberg, a partner in BCG’s health care practice, notes:

“Americans do not fully appreciate the alarming extent of outcomes variation that exists among U.S. hospitals. If you call 911, do you want your loved one’s heart attack treated at a hospital with a 4 percent death rate or a 16 percent death rate? The closest hospital may not always be the best hospital.”

The study does not identify specific hospitals as low- or high-performing. You can use the federal government’s recently developed Hospital Compare system to review ratings of your local hospitals.

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Stacy Johnson

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