Better Care Through Hospital Comparisons

Last November, I talked about the introduction of Hospital Compare, which allows the public to view and compare hospitals based on measurable statistics, like surgical death rate and hospital readmission rate. The theory went like this: if hospitals were compared to each other in what is essentially quality of care, then directors and staff would be pressured to improve services.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal tackled the story:

“The VA secretary pays attention to this,” says William E. Duncan, the agency’s associate deputy undersecretary for health quality and safety. “Unless people in the VA system have an organizational death wish, they will pay attention to this, too.”

When VA hospitals in Virginia and Oklahoma learned an abnormally high number of their patients contracted pneumonia while on ventilators, they took steps to cut the rates. And a hospital in Kansas City, Mo., that recently ranked relatively poorly on surgical-death rates says it has improved by making staffing and other changes in radiology, cardiology and emergency medicine, including better avoiding hospital-borne infections.

There’s a couple things to take away from this. One, VA Medical Centers should always be in a state of improvement. Period. Still, mistakes and accidents happen like at any hospital. But since VA is federally funded, this data is open to the public. As noted in the article, it’s an unprecedented release of information that won’t be found outside VA’s system.

Two, this gives Veterans an option to seek care at other VA facilities if they’re concerned about a specific hospital’s performance. If a Vet with heart troubles identifies his local medical center as having a below average re-admittance rate for congestive heart failure, he might consider another facility for his care. It shouldn’t have to come to that, but some facilities will simply do better than others.

Like I said last time, the data is a bit of a challenge to comb through, and it’s only viewable on Internet Explorer (sorry fellow Firefox users). But it’s an initiative that uses information and technology to push facilities to improve their care. Pretty neat, I think.


Alex Horton


  1. Kate    

    Its about time that something is being done with the care at VA hospitals. Some staff members should be replaced or retire at least. I was subject to a nurse that gave me an asprin for pain and I wasn’t suppose to have it, hence the male nurs that brused me so bad when he took out a main line in my arm, because I would have bleed out if he did not keep the presure on my wrist. The nurse ( female) who was in charge of my care should have been looked at closely, she is known as Nusr Hatchet in my state hospital.

  2. William E.    

    Most of the time the VA hospital in La Jolla takes way better care of me than I take care of me. Only dropped the ball on the psych meds once. I started nutting up a little and they fixed that part. I had my life saved by a male nurse who caught that I had a pulmanary embolism early on and they managed to clean it up and save me. They just need to warm up the shower water a little.

  3. Joe Average    

    “Hospital Compare” is too little, too late in addressing some of the problems with VAMC’s. VA hospitals need to be accredited by the Joint commission, the same as private hospitals do. There is simply no reason to “lower the standard of care” in inspections just because the patient is a Veteran.
    The VAOIG has demonstrated that it is ineffective at fixing VAMC problems.
    The money spent by getting VAMC’s “up to par” with private hospitals with Joint Commission inspections (and enforced compliance) would pay big dividends down the road preventing scandals like THIS from happening.

    1. Alex Horton    

      I hope the article is incorrect when it says that dentist will go back.

      Doctors aren’t above mistakes and plain negligence, but a system needs to be in place to keep these chronic bad actors out. Hopefully continued pressure will make sure he doesn’t pick up another instrument. Thanks for the article.

    2. missk    

      VA hospitals are Joint Commission accredited. Check their website.
      The dentist situation is terrible, but understand that these things happen at every type of facility–private and VA. VA is just somewhat more transparent about it.

  4. steve posadas    

    being in the VA system now 12yrss, I’ve had wonderful sevice at several facilities across the country, All except in Memphis. I’m having to battle the Civil War, the uncivil treatment I get because they think I’m Mexican. This RACIST BIAS has beome paramount to nothing more than tdomestic terrorism. The fact I have to answer every clerks querry, where you from, you from mexico, calif, texas. I do tell them I’m from NY, I’m not Mexican, they ask if I’m sure?! I was recently told I have a Texas accent. This stupid anti LATIN contemt is unAmerican. This has gone on for 12yrs, I will not survive this onslaught. I’m terminal and don’t care to bother with this stupid fight. As I tild one person, hate me for the ethnecity I am and not what you think I am. I’m Philipino/Slavic, typical NY’er. Everybodys something or other there.

    1. Alex Horton    


      Have you spoken to a patient advocate about your treatment? You can submit a formal complaint.

    2. Dan Goff    

      Steve, I would suggest you network with the Asian American community in Memphis and surround yourself with supportive friends.

      1. Michelle Lane-Smithwick    

        I am trying to locate Dan Goff who is a nurse. We went to nursing school together. If this is the Dan I know from nursing school, in Baltimore pls send me an email at I would love to talk with you and catch up!! If not, I apologize for bothering you.

  5. John C. Carracher, Psy.D.    

    Mark Twain is credited with the phase: “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics!”

    Repoertedly, this was derived from an earlier British soundbite that went something like this: “There are liars, damn liars, and economists!”

    As the saying goes: “money talks and BS walks”.

    The quality of private healthcare in the US is by no means an adequate reference standard to use anymore when it comes to comparing the quality of healthcare. Why? the lack of money ineffectively applied in the most relevant ways equals rationing.

    The Joint Commission can no longer be used as an index of quality. Why? Customer service of course. Remember, JCAHO earns its revenue by evaluating healthcare facilities. It is simply not possible for them to stay in business if they refuse to tell healthcare facilities (now conglomerates) what the facilities WANT to hear. Buying the opinions of accrediting agencies means the it is not possible to have any faith or confidence in the validity of the results reported by such accreditation agencies.

    It is said that good health care is based upon solid research. Again, the same problem. Pharmaceutical companies have a long tradition of buying the research that most effectively supports the sale of their products.

    It boils down to the Golden Rule … “those with the gold make the rules.”

    Caveat Emptor everybody … a warning about being cautious when it comes to private companies … and now applies to all who want to be like private companies.

  6. Joan Durand    

    I thought this country had realized long ago that there is no such thing as separate but equal.

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