SIOUX CITY, Iowa — When it comes to your health, you want the best possible care. But have you ever wondered just how safe our nation’s hospitals are?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, accidents and/or unintentional injuries are the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, coming in behind heart disease and cancer.
It’s an alarming statistic from our nation’s healthcare system; preventable medical errors resulting in the patient’s death, but how can you know if the hospital you or your loved one is seeking care from is truly safe?
“Medical errors are serious. We need to work on reducing those as close to zero as we can.”
Paul Pietzsch is the President of the Health Policy Corporation of Iowa, a non-profit organization striving to improve the quality and affordability of health care in the state. He says most hospitals are constantly working on safety and quality improvements, but “we just encourage them to do that with the consumer in mind and performance in mind.”
HPCI represents 23 Iowa counties, including Woodbury, and one county in Nebraska. But when it comes to national hospital safety, that is where the Leapfrog Group comes in to play.
The Leapfrog Group is a non-profit organization created by healthcare professionals with a goal to make giant leaps forward in the safety and quality of U.S. hospitals and healthcare.
Twice a year, The Leapfrog Group releases grades for the nation’s top hospitals. These grades are based on many different data points, voluntary hospital surveys, and public records and are collected and researched by a group of medical professionals before a “single, consumer-friendly composite score” is published as a letter grade. Leapfrog breaks down their scoring methodology here.
Sioux City's MercyOne Siouxland Hospital and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's are both a part of the Leapfrog grading system and in May of 2019, both hospitals earned themselves a “C” grade.
LeapFrog defines patient safety as to how hospitals and other health care organizations protect their patients from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. According to LeapFrog, as many as 44,000 people die every year from preventable hospital errors and 1 out of every 25 patients will develop an infection that didn't have to happen. Medicare patients have a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing injury, harm or death.
Leapfrog's Hospital Safety Grades are divided into five categories with each category broken down into 28 measures, all currently in use by national measurement and reporting programs. Each of those is given are ranking from below to above average. The five categories include Infections, Problems with Surgery, Practices and Preventable Errors, Safety Problems, and Doctors, Nurses and Hospital Staff.
When it comes to infections, neither MercyOne nor St. Luke's stand out but they also aren’t among the worst. According to the data, you are more likely to get a blood infection at St. Luke's, but you're more likely to get a surgical site infection at MercyOne. But while both hospitals are below average in these measures, they aren't alarmingly so.
Speaking of surgery, both MercyOne and St. Luke's are rated among the best when it comes to not leaving an object in a patient’s body cavity, but St. Luke's did receive a low score regarding patients developing a serious breathing problem during or post-surgery.
If we look at the physicians themselves working to prevent medical errors, both MercyOne and St. Luke's are about average, but when it comes to the staff at each hospital working to prevent those errors, both MercyOne and St. Luke's are ranked among the best in the nation.
Patient safety while under the care of hospital staff gets its own category. St. Luke's tops the list here twice, especially when it comes to tracking and reducing risks to patients.
The final category is given solely to a hospital's doctors, nurses and staff. It's here where both MercyOne and St. Luke's received high marks in the matter of having enough qualified nurses on staff. St. Luke's also topping the list for hospital leadership making patient safety a priority.
That is just a look at a few of the measures detailed in Leapfrog’s Safety Grades. To dig deeper into each hospital's score, click here for St. Luke’s and click here for MercyOne.
Leapfrog Safety Grades are released every Spring and Fall. Below is how MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's faired in recent years.
For those who don't visit Sioux City's two main hospitals, Omaha and Sioux Falls medical centers also receive semi-annual grades.
There are eight major hospitals in the Omaha metro area with Methodist Jennie Edmunson Hospital receiving the only “A” rating. Other notable scores are as follows:
WHAT CAN I DO?
With all this data you might be wondering, how can I use this to make sure I am getting the best healthcare possible? The answer here is as simple as asking questions.
“We are asking patients and consumers to get more involved in asking questions and maybe seeking a second opinion,” Pietzsch said. “Maybe taking an advocate with them when they go for care. That way they are more proactive. By asking questions, I think it's a way to get improvement.”
Overall, Pietzsch says hospitals in Iowa provide really good care, but there is always room for improvement.
“The individuals and medical care people are dedicated people and are caring people doing the best they can. Humans make mistakes. The process they use, the methods they use, is where the improvement needs to occur.”
With these safety grades, Leapfrog's goal is to inform the public with the hope that hospitals will work on making improvements to their patient care.
“I think transparency is the way to go. When providers see their performance being measured, they will work for improvement,” Pietzsch said.
HOSPITAL CARE IN IOWA
Iowa launched a website earlier this year, looking at the safety and quality of care for 50 of the state’s top hospitals and allowing users to compare hospitals side by side.
Putting MercyOne and St. Luke’s side-by-side using IAHealthScores.org shows both medical centers are very similar.
Both hospitals are considered Acute Care facilities, meaning they provide inpatient medical care and other related services for surgery., as opposed to a Critical Access hospital that is a small facility providing limited care.
Out of a five-star hospital quality ranking, both hospitals receive one. This looks at approximately 60 measures of quality from Hospital Compare. Looking at patient experience, St. Luke’s fares slightly better than MercyOne, receive three to their two-star rating.
You can dig deeper into these comparisons by visiting IAHealthScores.org and selecting which two hospitals in the state you want to compare.
We did reach out to both UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s and MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center for an on-camera interview regarding this investigation and while both declined to comment on camera, they did send statements which you can find below.
OTHER REGIONAL HOSPITALSIOWA:
UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's; Dr. Mike Kafka, Medical Director, Quality and Safety
UnityPoint Health – St. Luke's is committed to proving the highest quality and safest care for our patients. We voluntarily participate in the Leapfrog survey and use its results to assess our safety performance and identify opportunities for improvement. We were disappointed by the most recent Leapfrog results, and feel they don’t fully reflect the results of our current ongoing safety improvement efforts. There are a number of independent research groups in addition to Leapfrog who report their own patient and safety findings, many with differing results. This includes other independent groups who have ranked St. Luke’s high in patient safety. The differences in these findings can be confusing to consumers in terms of the current safety efforts by hospitals nationwide, including St. Luke’s. Our providers actively put patients and their safety at the heart of every decision, and care is always coordinated between clinics, hospitals and homes. Our teams continuously prioritize best practices throughout the system to sustainably manage resources and ensure that patients receive the best care at all times. As we have in the past, we encourage patients to consider a variety of factors when choosing a health care facility or provider, including reviewing public safety and quality on sites such as Hospital Compare. We will continue to enhance our safety practices and outcomes to ensure St. Luke’s provides the best outcome for every patient every time.
MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center declined to comment.
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