How does local hospital rate?

Published 8:41 am Saturday, August 15, 2009

This publisher of community newspapers has always felt a certain kinship with hospital administrators in small towns.

Being the only institution of your kind — whether a newspaper or a hospital — has its economic advantages, to be certain, but with that territory comes a special level of scrutiny from the community you serve. Small-town residents love to hate their local hospital. That was the case in the town, not much larger than Franklin, where I grew up — and in the handful of communities where I’ve lived since.

It begs the question: Can they all really be that bad?

Health care is a high-risk, low-reward business. People enter a hospital feeling lousy and, not surprisingly, in a bad mood. At best, a hospital can hope to send them back out feeling marginally better. Many times, a patient’s condition — and, in turn, disposition — deteriorates for reasons beyond the control of doctors or nurses.

Customer “satisfaction,” which every business strives for, can be an elusive pursuit for a hospital. Yet it is the standard by which hospitals are judged.

How does Southampton Memorial Hospital stack up with its peers? Chief Executive Officer David Fuller, over lunch with a small group of opinion shapers last week, shared SMH’s latest data from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Plans Survey, a nationally standardized survey developed by the federal government to measure how patients perceive the care they receive in hospitals.

The survey results, available for public consumption on the Internet, are intended to let hospital managers and caregivers, among others, know what patients think of their hospital care. It is designed to allow comparison of care among hospitals across the country.

The raw data suggests that Southampton Memorial is doing well relative to its peers.

To the question “What number would you use to rate this hospital during your state?”, with zero being the worst and 10 the best, 73 percent of surveyed SMH patients rated the Franklin hospital a 9 or 10, up from 65 percent in the previous survey period and better than the national norm of 65 percent. Seventeen percent gave SMH a 7 or 8, and 10 percent rated it a 6 or below.

“Would you recommend this hospital to your friends and family?” Sixty-seven percent of surveyed SMH patients said “definitely yes” and 25 percent “probably yes,” compared with the national norms of 70 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

To Fuller’s credit, he didn’t filter or sugarcoat the survey results. On emergency-room care, SMH lags the national norm of “very satisfied” patients: 40 percent locally, compared with 47 percent nationally. However, its number of “satisfied” ER patients — 46 percent — is higher than the national norm of 41 percent. The combination of “very satisfied” and “satisfied” totals 90 percent for Southampton Memorial, dead even with the national norm.

Whether hospital care in America generally is as good as it needs to be is another debate for another day. Comparatively, though, the objective data rate Franklin’s hospital favorably.

Perfect, no. Fuller candidly discussed the local hospital’s challenges and opportunities.

Anecdotally, any longtime resident can likely cite an unpleasant hospital experience or two over the years. In a high-stakes setting like hospital care, it’s easy — and often warranted — to hold a grudge when something goes seriously wrong in the treatment of a friend or loved one.

It’s also appropriate to judge a hospital on balance, using objective data available to us as consumers. That scorecard suggests that we the citizenry, despite our frequent criticisms, like our local hospital just fine.