Roy Exum: Hospital Ratings Are Ridiculous

Friday, August 09, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

When Consumer Reports graded hospitals on surgical care several weeks ago, a cursory glance at the statistics revealed it was a ridiculous stretch at best. A hospital has little, if anything, to do with the individual ability or performance of a given doctor and for our community to get all riled up that the area’s largest hospitals – Erlanger and Memorial – were rated as “poor” by a far-away magazine is a bunch of poppycock.

Last year Erlanger, our Level 1 trauma center, was chosen as the top regional hospital by U.S. News & World Report and that is equally mystifying, given Erlanger’s huge financial losses at the time. The truth is that Erlanger and Memorial, as well as Parkridge that was rated “good” by the Consumer Reports findings, all offer quality medical care despite the senseless statistical data that was used.

As a quick example, the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox have the worst records in Major League baseball. There is little doubt Consumer Reports would rank both as “terminal.” The Astros have lost 75 of 112 games this season and the White Sox are now 24 games behind Detroit in the AL Central alone. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact Houston second baseman Jose Altura is batting a healthy .279 with 117 hits or that Chicago’s Adam Dunn has already hit 26 home runs with 68 RBIs.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge there are some doctors that are much better than others. You see it everywhere you look; some lawyers are brilliant and some chase ambulances, some teachers are thrilling and some are hall monitors, some truckers win mileage awards and some crash their rigs. The trick in picking a doctor is choosing who you trust and learning who you want to avoid.

I have been blessed by the parade of wonderful doctors who have come into my life. Oh, I’ve shied away from several but having a physician you admire and trust is a big part of staying healthy. Once you get to know and appreciate their staff it gets even better and today, with more and more “physician’s assistants” able to see you quickly, the team approach is a blessing in itself.

I had one doctor, a nice guy, who did a procedure on me one Friday about two years ago and over the weekend I got pretty sick as a result. I try hard not to bother a doctor on the weekend, instead going to the ER if absolutely necessary. When I called his office the first thing Monday morning, I was promptly patched through to his nurse and was stunned by the crass message. After listening to her recording, I wouldn’t go back to that doctor on a bet. Oh, he was a good guy but my thinking is that if a psycho nurse is my only lifeline I’m better off finding a different crowd that cares about me.

Another great test is to note how long you wait to be seen. I understand about emergencies – that has been me before – but I have found if I wait over 30 minutes from the time of my appointment, chances are there is some other doctor in the same field who cares more about his business plan. That’s not unreasonable – my time is valuable. When I waste it needlessly, all I think about is what a fool I am to allow such a situation to occur in my life.

All the big hospitals – Vanderbilt, Emory, UAB and others – now have in-house telephone numbers for the patient to call if “the 30 minute rule” is violated. Whether a doctor wants to admit it, the competition for patient satisfaction has raised the bar. Granted, for it to work, the patient must be on time, too, but the days of being a victim are over.

My biggest failure of all time happened this summer when I was referred to an orthopedic clinic for the very first time after I fractured my shoulder. I waited 55 minutes before I was seen by this male nurse who had a good number of tattoos. I don’t have anything against tattoos but that is what I remembered. “Nurse Tattoo” took my history and then I waited another 40 minutes before the physician’s assistant finally showed up.

The physician’s assistant left several times to relay questions to the doctor and then come back with the answers. I’ve never seen anything like it. When I finally left, I had been a patient in that office for two hours and 20 minutes and, get this, I had neither met nor did I even know the name of the doctor I was to see.

I realized at the time there was little I could do to have avoided what had happened but I can guarantee it will never occur to me again. Patients must remember they have a choice – they should use it -- but they should also realize no website in the world can possibly know this stuff goes on at different hospitals.

How can you possibly rate surgical care based on Medicare statistics? Some doctors refuse to see Medicare patients – the paperwork alone is horrendous – but that hardly means the doctors who do see Medicare and Medicaid are not quality physicians who are keenly interested in the people they help.

Don’t fall for meaningless grades and rankings. Understand the magazine’s chief goal is to sell subscriptions and by ranking the top two hospitals in Chattanooga as “poor” creates exactly the firestorm and sensationalism it takes in today’s climate of “got cha’” journalism.

royexum@aol.com


IDB Travesty

It is unfortunate that our system of local government is structured so that a handful of rich and powerful people in this town control almost everything significant that goes on here. Some would argue that this has been going on in every government since the beginning of time.  While this may be true, I don’t have to like it.  I am fortunate to have this forum to vent ... (click for more)

The Irony Of The Black Community

Isn't it ironic? Every other day, we hear about another member of the black community who gets shot and refuses to talk (a problem certainly not unique to Chattanooga) but when a cop is the one who shoots, they can't talk fast enough.  And when the police manage to arrest a large group of people who need to be arrested, without the assistance of the community, we hear the ... (click for more)

5 Hamilton County Schools Designated As Priority Schools, 3 As Focus Schools

Five Hamilton County Schools have been designated as Priority Schools and three as Focus Schools. Priority Schools are the five percent of schools across the state with the lowest overall performance. Those from Hamilton County are Brainerd High School, Dalewood Middle School, Orchard Knob Elementary School, Orchard Knob Middle School and Woodmore Elementary School. Focus ... (click for more)

Teen Shot Twice On Wilson Street; He Won't Help Police

A teen who was shot twice on Wilson Street shortly after midnight said he would not help police. At approximately 12:08 a.m., Chattanooga Police responded to a call of a person shot at 1812 Wilson St. Chattanooga Police officers and EMS located Nathaniel Williams, 18, suffering from two non-life threatening gunshot wounds.  The victim was transported to Erlanger Hospital ... (click for more)

Ison Powers Ooltewah Past Cleveland In 5-AAA Volleyball

CLEVELAND, Tenn. – Ooltewah’s Courtlyn Ison was in midseason form Tuesday night. And Cleveland’s Lady Blue Raiders had no answer for the Lady Owls’ potent offensive threat. Ison, who led Ooltewah to district, region and sub-state titles en route to the 2013 Class AAA state tournament, overpowered Cleveland with a dominating net game and the Lady Owls opened their season with ... (click for more)

Hixson Beats Silverdale For Second Win

There's something about that second set that gives the Hixson Lady Wildcats trouble. Hixson lost the second set in Monday's volleyball opener against Sale Creek.  They did the same thing against the Silverdale Seahawks on Tuesday, but just like Monday's match, the Lady Wildcats came out on top, 3-1. Hixson won the first set with ease, 25-11.  Silverdale evened the  ... (click for more)