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Earlier this month the Leapfrog Group, a leading advocate for hospital transparency, released its Fall 2016 safety grades on 2,633 hospitals across the Nation. For some, the results were surprising, as the rankings didn’t necessarily correspond with regions known, or not known, for quality patient care. For example, New York state ranked 46 on the list of states with a high percentage of high-ranking hospitals, while Idaho came in at number two just behind Hawaii.

Supporters of the not-for-profit group point out that Leapfrog’s method of grading, an A through F letter grade system similar that which is used in schools to grade a student’s performance, focuses on a given hospital’s prioritization of patient safety and their attempt to reduce medical errors rather than the capabilities or reputation of the staff—while many hospitals have a reputation for both quality care and patient safety, it’s important to note that the two don’t always go hand in hand.

Opponents to the grading system cite that Leapfrog uses limited data to determine their rankings, thereby not providing a complete picture of patient care. At the center of such controversy is a survey that Leapfrog sends to each hospital. While results from the survey are combined with other sources of publicly available safety data, it appears that not completing and returning the survey can skew a provider’s grade. One such incident took place in years past when the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles decided it wasn’t worth the resources to complete the survey, which can take 40 to 80 hours of staff time. Their resulting grade was an F. Shocked by the grade, the hospital re-ran the grading process with previously completed survey data and their rating jumped to a C level. In fact, the UCLA hospital has continued to cooperate with Leapfrog and has recently received a B rating for fall 2016.

Experts such as Michael Millenson, president of Health Quality Advisors, suggest that the hospital survey is not the only limiting factor—for example; the Leapfrog Group data does not take into account the opinion of the general public. While others point out that gauging hospital safety is not a perfect science, it should be understood that published ratings are meant only to be a guideline for individuals seeking health care. The most important takeaway for potential patients is that such information should only play a part in their decision-making process. Before trusting their well-being to any wellness center, individuals should look at multiple rating sources, talk with their personal physicians and seek the opinion of friends, family and other community members.

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