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Perception Gap Cannot Conceal Hospital Errors

In a data-driven society, it gets harder and harder for hospitals to avoid unpleasant truths about adverse events that harm patients.

For example, an analysis of data released by Medicare tells a story about how patients' own perceptions of the quality of care they received can differ sharply from the reality revealed in indicators like death rates and frequency of readmission.

Analyzing Medicare data, USA Today found that over 120 hospitals that had been rated highly by patients actually had comparatively high fatality rates for heart attacks, as well as heart failure and pneumonia. This finding naturally raises concerns about hospital errors at those institutions.

In other words, a patient's subjective perception of quality medical care is no guarantee that the care in fact met objective measures of quality. This is known as the perception gap.

To be sure, there is dispute among experts about which measures to use to gauge quality in a hospital setting. Nonetheless, the data is increasingly available on death and readmission rates for hospitals in New York and around on country for specific conditions.

For example, this interactive tool offers access to data on heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. Analysis of the Medicare data showed that out of over 4,600 hospitals, 323, or one of every 14, had above average rates of death for at least one of these three conditions.

Patient surveys, it would seem, need to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. They do not necessarily measure all that needs to be measured in assessing the quality of medical care that a patient received.

Source: "Medicare data show gap in hospital performance, perception," USA Today, 8-5-11

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