June 15, 2008

Consumer Reports Offers Research on Hospitals

A new Consumer Reports tool offers people a chance to research a hospital before choosing a facility for medical treatment.

The tool, called Your Hospital Stay, offers consumers a chance to see how their local hospital stacks up to others in terms of end-of-life care for such diseases as diabetes, cancer and renal failure.

But not all physicians agree the tool is a useful comparison.

Dr. Kevin Shea, director of infection control quality and management at Carolinas Hospital System in Florence, said he thinks it will only serve to confuse consumers who take the time to search for area hospitals.

"The more you look through this Web site and try to analyze data, the more questions come up," he said. "The numbers are not well clarified and it really does not correlate to quality of care."

The main problem with the tool, Shea said, is that the findings don't clarify how they were determined.

"Because this doesn't give the details that you would naturally ask, so I don't know how this fits in," he said. "I'm very cautious about trying to interpret numbers where you don't get any clear sense of (how they were determined.)"

Dr. Alva Whitehead, vice president of medical staff services at McLeod Health, said he determined the results of the tool to be based on the findings of a recent report from Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

"The primary effect of the report is that it shows the work we have done in regards to palliative care and respecting the requests of the patients and their families," he said.

The report highlights the positive effects of such programs as Five Wishes, which is an advanced directive letting patients' loved ones know about their end of life wishes.

Whitehead said the results are interesting in that different parts of the country often show specific results in the Dartmouth study.

"It's always been interesting in the past when I've looked at these numbers that the pioneering spirit of people living in the Midwest had actually lower numbers," he said. "I think, to a certain respect, that is due to the fact that there is a naturalness to dying. That's something our culture has lost."

Whitehead said the change in the perception of how death is viewed has changed the way hospitals provide care for terminal patients because of family requests.

"Years ago, people were more attuned to the fact that death was inevitable," he said. "To a certain extent, our society has begun to believe that death is an option, and that results in a lot of what we call futile end-of-life care."

Whitehead credits McLeod's hospice and palliative care programs for lessening the aggressive end of life care levels for their facility.

According to the Dartmouth study, baby boomers with aging parents will play an integral role in changing the way end of life care is managed during the coming years.