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HealthGrades names St. Luke's Hospital one of nation's 50 best

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 23, 2011 - St. Luke's Hospital of Chesterfield was singled out today as one of the nation's 50 best hospitals. It was the only Missouri hospital on the list. The recognition comes only weeks after St. Luke's was listed as one of five area hospitals in the top 5 percent nationwide in good patient outcomes.

Both rankings came from HealthGrades, an independent source of information on doctor and hospital quality. Many area providers recognize and respect HealthGrades data. But some health-care professionals stress that its rankings are only one of many comparisons, which often provide conflicting conclusions about hospital quality. Ratings fluctuate, depending on the type of hospital and services reviewed. Others say the ratings should be just the starting point for judging hospital quality and care.

Gary Olson, president and chief executive officer of St. Luke's, said the hospital was proud of its ranking. It was due to work by "our experienced and dedicated physicians, staff and volunteers who are committed to the same mission. That mission is to make a difference in the lives of our patients, their families and the community," Olson said.

HealthGrades says its Best Hospitals rankings were based on an analysis of more than 140 million Medicare patient records from 1999 through 2009 for 26 common medical procedures and conditions, ranging from heart attacks to knee replacements. It says the data are risk-adjusted for differing levels of severity of patient illness. This allows hospitals to be compared meaningfully, the organization believes.

HealthGrades says that if all U.S. hospitals performed at the level of the 50 best in its rankings, about 550,000 Medicare patient deaths over the last decade could have been prevented.

"On average, patients treated at America's 50 Best Hospitals had a nearly 30 percent lower risk of death and 3 percent lower rate of complications" during the 11-year period, HealthGrades said in a statement.

Last month, St. Luke's was among seven Missouri hospitals singled out for clinical excellence in a separate ranking of patient health. This study, also done by HealthGrades, was based on a review of Medicare patient deaths and complication rates at roughly 5,000 hospitals.

In addition to St. Luke's, the other four local hospitals listed are: SSM St Mary's Health Center in Richmond Heights; Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital in St. Peters; and Christian Hospital and Missouri Baptist Medical Center, both in St. Louis County. The other two Missouri hospitals on the list are Boone Hospital Center in Columbia and Skaggs Regional Medical Center in Branson.

The study said these hospitals outperformed others in several categories involving mortality and complications between 2007 and 2009, with risk-adjusted, in-hospital mortality rates 29.8 percent lower than other hospitals, and in-hospital complication rates 1.9 percent lower than other hospitals.

The Missouri Hospital Association said in a statement that the awards were nothing new to the St. Louis region, which it said was "home to some of the best hospitals in the country."

While quality studies were a "snapshot of a moment in time," it stressed that "patients should talk to physicians and other caregivers about their options and expectations for procedures and recovery. Data can help in this conversation, but should only be a starting point."

Asked why Barnes-Jewish Hospital wasn't on the list, June Fowler, BJC's vice president for corporate and public communications, noted that there are several ways to measure hospital quality, including the widely known review by U.S. News & World Report and a lesser known anlaysis by Thomson Reuters.

"All of these organizations use different measures and criteria when rating health-care institutions and we take pride in the fact that hospitals within BJC earn recognition each year," Fowler says, noting that four of the seven hospitals on the HealthGrades list are part of the BJC system: Boone, Christian, Barnes-Jewish St. Peters, and Missouri Baptist.

"The HealthGrades criteria are an area where community hospitals dominate, while the U.S. News & World Report rankings focus on the qualities associated with academic medical centers. Thomson Reuters concentrates on scores related to the patient experience."

Funding for the Beacon's health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization that aims to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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