NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 20, 2008

Until today, hospital death rates were closely guarded secrets, discussed in board rooms but beyond the reach of patients whose lives are on the line.  That changed this morning when USA Today posted on its Website the government's best estimates of heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia death rates for every U.S. hospital for two years.

Now anyone with access to a computer can directly compare a local hospital with the one across town to see how it stacks up against the biggest medical institutions nationwide.  Death rates from heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia are widely viewed as yardsticks of a hospital's overall performance.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) shared the information in advance with USA Today to reach the widest possible audience:

  • The agency also posted its new mortality estimates on a government Website (, along with more than two dozen other measures of how well hospitals meet patients' needs.
  • Among them are statistics on what percentage of a hospital's patients get appropriate care for a variety of ailments, including childhood asthma, and 10 measures of patient satisfaction with the hospital experience.
  • All three types of measurements give hospitals ways to assess -- and improve -- their quality of care, but many health officials regard the number of patients who die in the hospital or soon after discharge as the ultimate measure of performance.

Knowing a hospital's death rates also gives consumers more power to influence the quality of their medical care, says Lisa Iezzoni, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Policy.

"What the mortality rate does is give you an entree to talk to your doctor and say, 'Look, is this hospital stay going to kill me?' "

Source: Steve Sternberg and Anthony DeBarros, "Hospital death rates unveiled," USA Today, August 20, 2008.

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