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Hospital Care: Better, But Varying

The latest statistics show the quality of care provided by hospitals getting better. But, explains The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, the new reports also show lots of room for improvement remaining.

There's been lots of concern about hospital safety in recent years, Senay points out, in the wake of a widely-publicized report from the Institute of Medicine revealing tens of thousands of deaths each year from medical errors in hospitals.

One of the strategies to improve care has been an increased effort to encourage hospitals around the country to report statistics on a voluntary basis to groups that measure hospital performance. The idea is that hospitals will be self-motivated to improve areas where they fall short if their performance statistics are made available to consumers who are then able to shop around for the best health care.

Two new studies in the New England Journal of Medicine provide an update on the quality of hospital care in the United States.

One is from a group called the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which looked at data on how well some of the leading causes of death were treated at more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals.

The good news, Senay observes, is that the data showed consistent improvement over a two-year period in providing standard treatments for three top causes of death in hospitals: pneumonia, heart attacks and congestive heart failure.

The data measured treatments including giving heart attack victims aspirin and clot-busting drugs quickly, prescribing antibiotics quickly to people with pneumonia, and checking how well the heart was pumping in heart-failure patients. Some hospitals improved as much as 33 percent, though some went up just three percent. The researchers found that the worst hospitals improved the most.

But, Senay says, there's also bad news, in a second study, which looked at data on the same three causes of death from more than 3,500 U.S. hospitals. The numbers were collected by the Hospital Quality Alliance.

That study found a lot of disparities in the quality of hospital care around the country. Hospitals in the Northeast and Midwest scored better than those in the South and West for the two heart conditions, and midwestern hospitals were best when it came to pneumonia care, for instance.

This study is also worrisome, says Senay, because it shows care varying from hospital to hospital, and many patients not getting standard and easy-to-administer treatments for these potentially life-threatening conditions.

Experts insist there is room for improvement until 100 percent of patients are getting the care they deserve at every hospital.

To get more information on hospital quality in your area, you can go to the joint commission's site or a Dept. of Health and Human Services hospital comparison tool.