July 5, 2011

Hospitals strive to remain on 'preferred list'

The State Employee Health Commission rates Maine institutions, encouraging improvements in quality.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Maine Medical Center has received calls from patients asking about the state's preferred list, said Salvador, the hospital's quality chief.

Salvador said he tried to reassure them that the hospital is performing at a high level. Despite the rating on cardiac care protocols, he said, heart attack patients coming to Maine Medical Center are less likely to die than if they go to nearly any other hospital in the state.

"There's no perfect thermometer you can apply to a hospital that says high quality or low quality," said Salvador.

At the same time, he said, the growing transparency and use of quality data is driving real improvements in quality at Maine Medical Center and other hospitals. And hospitals are taking it seriously.

"The consequences of not being on the (preferred) list is going to grow," he said.

Rusk, at Mercy, said large private employers also are now focusing more on quality data to contain health insurance costs. The addition of costs into the state's rating system will make it even trickier for hospitals to maintain high quality.

"It's something you have to balance very carefully," he said.

Johnson, the commission director, admits the rating system isn't perfect.

The quality ratings are based on a limited number of performance measures that are publicly reported by hospitals.

There is no comparable data to compare obstetrics and gynecology, for example, so it's possible a hospital that is not on the preferred list provides higher quality of ob-gyn care than a preferred hospital. Cost comparisons will be based on the average price for a variety of services, not on the prices for the specific procedure that a patient may need.

"It's based on what information we have," Johnson said. "If hospitals are performing well in those categories, we hope it extends to others as well."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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