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Three metro-Atlanta hospitals barely pass independent rating

Leapfrog, a hospital rating organization, looked at factors such as numbers of infections, problems with surgery, and failure to stop preventable errors. It also rates the doctors and nurses themselves.

Three hospitals in metro Atlanta received the poorest passing grades possible in the latest national survey of hospital safety. And while no hospitals in Metro Atlanta received a failing grade – and six in Metro Atlanta actually received an A rating – three received grades of D.

Leapfrog, a hospital rating organization, looked at factors such as numbers of infections, problems with surgery, and failure to stop preventable errors. It also looked at the doctors and nurses.

The three Metro Atlanta hospitals receiving grades of D were WellStar Atlanta Medical Center, Emory University Hospital Midtown, and DeKalb Medical Center Hillandale.

Leapfrog Group and CEO Leah Binder said many of the hospitals’ shortcomings include inflicting patients with so-called “never” events that are preventable.

RELATED: Georgia hospitals' grades for Fall 2017

“Things that really should never happen, there just isn’t an excuse,” Binder said.

The study found that problems at Emory Midtown included a high number of deaths from treatable complications, high numbers of patients getting infections and blood clots, and air or gas bubbles in the blood. The study also found that doctors and nurses communicated poorly with patients.

The problems cited at Atlanta Medical Center included high numbers of patients getting infections, collapsed lungs, and blood clots. This report said doctors and nurses communicated poorly with patients.

And at DeKalb Medical Center Hillandale there were, according to the study, high numbers of patients getting infections, collapsed lungs and blood clots – all while doctors and nurses apparently communicated poorly with patients. This hospital was also flagged in the grading for not having enough doctors working in the intensive care unit.

“The bad things you don’t want to have happen at a hospital,” Binder said. “Unfortunately, they are much more common than any of us want to know.”

And many of these bad things, she says, are preventable.

“There shouldn’t be an air bubble that goes to the wrong place in your body and kills you, those are accidents hospitals know how to prevent and must prevent,” Binder said. “They’re very dangerous.”

The study gives grades of C to most metro Atlanta hospitals but six received grades of A:

  • Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Fayetteville
  • Piedmont Newnan Hospital
  • Tanner Medical Center of Villa Rica
  • WellStar Douglas Hospital in Douglasville
  • WellStar Paulding Hospital in Hiram
  • Cartersville Medical Center

One issue facing patients is that many health insurance plans all but require patients to go to specific hospitals even if they are hospitals that receive poor grades from independent rating organizations.

DeKalb Medical Center did not comment on the study or its findings.

Emory HealthCare said studies like this one can be helpful tools in identifying needed improvements. But Emory questions the validity and accuracy of the Leapfrog surveys. See below for Emory's full statement.

Atlanta Medical Center referred us to the Georgia Hospital Association, which did not comment on the specific problems mentioned, but told us that hospitals across the state have made great progress improving patient safety:

“Hospitals are leaders in transparency with regard to quality measurement and have shared safety and quality data with the public for more than a decade. When making health care decisions, patients should use all available tools at their disposal such as talking with friends and family and consulting with doctors, nurses and other health care providers.”

-Earl Rogers
President & CEO
Georgia Hospital Association

And here is Emory Healthcare's response to the study and its findings:

• Emory Healthcare is dedicated to providing the highest quality health care and patient safety measures.
• Emory Healthcare supports the public reporting of quality and safety data, and the health system is working with others to develop measures we hope will help patients make the best decisions when choosing hospitals for their care.
• Hospitals within Emory Healthcare do not participate in the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade program or its surveys. A recent study confirms skewing of self-reporting and limitations of the Leapfrog reports.
• There is a significant time lag in the public reporting data in the Leapfrog report that further limits its relevance to current performance.
• While the evidence is clear that some of these ranking systems are not yet meaningfully useful for comparing and ranking individual hospitals, we carefully review such data internally to ensure that we are always focusing our efforts on the most fruitful areas to maintain the highest levels of quality and safety for our patients.
• In the meantime, when viewing local and national rankings based on publically reported measures, it is important to keep in mind that current models do not adequately adjust for severity and mix of illnesses. Emory Healthcare hospitals care for some of the sickest and most complex patients.
• Comparisons among hospitals caring for very different types of patients can be highly misleading.

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