Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville is the only Charlotte hospital to earn a top score in newly released federal rankings. Meanwhile Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center was the only area hospital to receive a below-average score, according to data.
Other hospitals within 25 miles of Charlotte received four out of five stars: Carolinas Medical Center on Blythe Boulevard, Carolinas HealthCare System University, CaroMont Regional Medical Center in Gastonia, Novant Health Matthews Medical Center and Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center. Carolinas HealthCare System Northeast in Concord received three out of five stars.
The ratings, released in December, are based on data that hospitals report to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that runs Medicare, a key health insurance program for older Americans and those with disabilities. Ratings are determined from a variety of measures, such as effectiveness and safety of care, patient experience and other areas, including patient death rates.
One aim of the ratings is to encourage hospitals to improve the quality of their care, according to the government. Patients should always go to the nearest hospital in an emergency, experts say, and safety ratings are intended to be used when patients can plan ahead, like when scheduling a surgery.
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Nationwide, 337 hospitals received an excellent score. In North Carolina, 10 hospitals earned top marks, including the Pineville hospital. That facility also received top marks in fall 2017 safety scores awarded by hospital safety nonprofit The Leapfrog Group. CaroMont and Carolinas HealthCare System Northeast also received A grades from Leapfrog.
Winston-Salem-based Novant, the Charlotte area’s second-largest hospital system behind Carolinas HealthCare, received two stars in the government report for Presbyterian Medical Center in the Elizabeth neighborhood.
Two other Novant hospitals, Matthews Medical Center and Huntersville Medical Center, received four stars.
Diana Best, senior vice president of clinical improvement at Novant, said the system analyzes its practices on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities for improvement.
The newly released federal data shows a patient who came to the emergency department at Presbyterian had to wait 20 minutes before getting pain medication.
The wait time at Carolinas Pineville jumped to 45 minutes, but the hospital had a better overall score. Waits at both hospitals were lower than the state average of 54 minutes and national average of 49 minutes.
The average wait time for a patient in the emergency department at Pineville before being admitted was four hours and 20 minutes. At Presbyterian, the wait was four hours and 36 minutes.
Wait times at both hospitals were below the state average of five hours and 27 minutes and the national average of five hours and 36 minutes.
In a statement, Carolinas HealthCare said it continually reviews many outside reports, including star ratings, to identify opportunities to further learn and improve.
The American Hospital Association and other hospital groups have expressed concern that the government ratings are inaccurate and misleading.
The ratings also show that assessing hospital performance is as much an art as a science, and choosing a hospital should never be based on rankings, scores or grades alone. The inconsistencies highlight the fact that ratings depend on which measures are considered and how they are weighed.
Don Goldmann, chief scientific officer emeritus for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a Massachusetts-based organization, said the government’s star ratings are probably motivating hospitals to improve practices to avoid poor scores, which is a good thing for patients.
But evidence suggests patients don’t pay much attention to such ratings when selecting a hospital, he said.
For patients who are seeking to use the ratings, hospitals that score highest and lowest are worth noting, Goldmann said.
“I think having a five-star or one-star rating would catch my attention,” he said. “If there are two or even three stars, I’d look to see which of the many specific measures are driving these relatively low overall ratings. Hospitals that have low-star ratings over two or more years would be concerning.”
News & Observer staff writer John Murawski contributed.