The Billings Outpost

Billings Clinic tops for safety

YONKERS, N.Y. - Billings Clinic was rated the highest scoring hospital in the nation for safety in a recent report by Consumer Reports.

It was the first time Consumer Reports has rated U.S. hospitals for safety, combining six key measures into one composite Rating. Overall, Consumer Reports rates 1,159 hospitals in 44 states in four special regional editions of its August issue and online at

Billings Clinic got the top score in part because it reported very low rates of double CT scans and bloodstream infections.

Mark Rumans, the hospital’s physician-in-chief, said that doctors who practice there are part of an integrated system, which fosters teamwork.

No other Montana hospitals rated either in the top or bottom 10 on Consumer Reports’ list.

The six categories that comprise the safety score are: infections, readmissions, overuse of scanning, communication about new medications and discharge, complications, and mortality.

Infections, surgical mistakes, and other medical harm contribute to the deaths of 180,000 hospital patients a year, according to projections based on a 2010 report by the Department of Health and Human Services.  And that figure only applies to Medicare patients.

More than half (51 percent) of the hospitals rated by Consumer Reports received a score below 50 (on a scale of 1-100). “The safety scores provide a window into our nation’s hospitals, exposing worrisome risks that are mostly preventable,” said John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

 “A consumer who enters a hospital thinking it’s a place to get better deserves to know if that is indeed the case.”  Some highlights:

* Overall Safety Performance: Even the highest scoring hospitals have room for improvement. Billings Clinic in Montana was at the top of Consumer Reports’ list, but it got a safety score of just 72. As noted above, 51 percent of hospitals rated by Consumer Reports earned scores below 50 on a scale of 1-100.

· Deadly Infections: About one in 20 hospitalized patients will develop an infection that can be devastating, deadly even. Many can be prevented. Of the hospitals rated by Consumer Reports, 202 hospitals reported infections at rates higher than the national benchmark, and only 148 reported zero infections.

· Radiation Overload: CT scans can provide essential diagnostic information. But they pose risks, too. Radiation from CT scans — which are equivalent to between 100 and 500 chest X-rays—might contribute to an estimated 29,000 future cancers a year, a 2009 study suggests. Consumer Reports’ Ratings report on the percentage of chest and abdominal CT scans that are ordered twice for the same patient, once with contrast, and once without. Only 28 percent of the hospitals in CR’s Ratings had double-scan rates of 5 percent or less in both categories.

· Readmissions: Research suggests that up to three-quarters of readmissions may be preventable. Consumer Reports includes readmissions in its safety composite score in part because the more often a patient enters a hospital, the greater the chance something will go wrong. No hospital earned CR’s highest score for readmissions; 166 hospitals received CR’s lowest score.   

· Communication: For Communication, again, no hospital earned CR’s top score while almost 500 hospitals earned CR’s lowest score for communication about new medications and discharge plans. The Communication scores are based on questions answered by millions of discharged patients in a federally mandated survey.

· Medical Harm: Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Md., told Consumer Reports: “Medical harm is probably one of the three leading causes of death in the U.S., but the government doesn’t adequately track it as it does deaths from automobiles, plane crashes, and cancer. It’s appalling.”

The report outlines steps the government should take to fix the system, including the implementation of a national system for tracking and publicly reporting medical errors, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine more than 10 years ago. “The public assumes that someone keeps track of all that goes wrong, but that is just not the case,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. For more details about what needs to happen to improve hospital safety, go to



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