Medicare releases results of new star ranking system for hospitals

April 16, 2015

In the first release of its star ratings, only 251 hospitals scored “five out of five stars” on Medicare’s Hospital Compare site.

In the first release of its star ratings on April 16, only 251 hospitals scored “five out of five stars” on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website.

The website is designed to let customers compare hospitals to each other similar to how they would compare hotels or flights, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Hospitals are ranked on a five-star scale, with more stars indicating higher quality care. The star rankings are updated each quarter and are based on patient opinions and not on scientific testing, according to CMS.

Ratings are determined by 11 measures of patient experience, each of which are available for consumers to read on the Hospital Compare site. Those measures are then totaled and a summary star rating combines the 11 measures into a “single, comprehensive metric.”

Medicare doesn’t only rank hospitals by star ratings: Nursing homes, dialysis centers and private Medicare Advantage insurance plans are all ranked on a similar system.

There is some pushback from other hospital ranking organizations. Evan Marks, an executive at Healthgrades, wonders if consumers will use Medicare’s site.

“It’s nice they’re going to try to be more consumer friendly,” Marks told KaiserHealthNews.org. “I don’t see that the new star rating itself is going to drive consumer adoption.”  Without a major public relations campaign, consumers may not know about Hospital Compare, he noted.

Related:Hospital ratings: Advancing or obscuring choices?

Many in the healthcare industry worry that customer-based star ratings only tell part of the story. “There’s a risk of oversimplifying the complexity of quality care or misinterpreting what is important to a particular patient, especially since patients seek care for many different reasons,” said the American Hospital Association in a statement to Kaiser Health News.

In order to clarify some confusion about the rankings, Medicare’s website offers some advice: “A one-star rating does not mean you will receive poor care from a hospital. It means that hospitals that received two or more stars performed better on this particular measure of patient experience of care.”