St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center is top-rated among six hospitals in Maine for surgical quality followed by Central Maine Medical Center, according to rankings recently released by Consumer Reports.

That means two of the best surgical care hospitals are located in Lewiston, which should be a point of pride for the entire community.

This is the first time Consumer Reports has examined and rated surgical care, although it has rated other aspects of hospital performance.

The report examined 2,463 hospitals, but only six here: Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor; Maine General Medical Center in Waterville; St. Mary’s and CMMC in Lewiston; and Maine Medical Center in Portland.

CR said the ratings adjusted for the complexity of cases at each hospital, and patients transferred to another hospital were not counted against the receiving hospital.

The top-rated hospital in the country received a score of 74. St. Mary’s score was very close to the top and the highest among the six hospitals in Maine, 67.

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Central Maine Medical Center was second at 61, while Maine Medical Center in Portland received the lowest rating in surgical quality in the state, 47.

St. Mary’s had the top score in the critical area of avoiding bloodstream infections. Maine Medical Center and Eastern Maine Medical Center received black marks in that area indicating lower-than-average results, while CMMC was above average.

The CU ratings examined 27 types of surgery and rated the hospitals based upon safety, patient outcomes, patient experience and hospital practices.

An important indicator of quality surgical care is the rate of re-admission after surgery.

Again, St. Mary’s came out on top, while the rankings for all other hospitals were about average.

Nationally, the rankings surprised many. Large, well-known hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic, received mediocre ratings, while small-town hospitals often had better surgical outcomes.

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Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and author of the book “Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You,” told Reuter’s news service he was not surprised.

“For a complex procedure you’re probably better off at a well-known academic hospital, but for many common operations lesser-known, smaller hospitals have mastered the procedures and may do even better” with post-surgical care.

(While a CR subscription is required for the detailed results, consumers can read about the study and learn how to prepare for surgery at http://tinyurl.com/k9mqlbr)

Hospitals like Maine Med, which received lower rankings, will certainly contest the results. The hospital was recently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the top hospital in Maine for general quality.

The Leapfrog Group, an agency created by large employers to improve health care in the U.S., gave good but mixed ratings to hospitals in Maine. For instance, it gave an “A” rating to both St. Mary’s and CMMC for hospital safety, but a “B” score to Maine Medical Center.

It gave slightly higher ratings to Maine Med for high-risk surgeries like aortic valve replacement, but generally higher scores to CMMC for avoiding hospital-acquired conditions.

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Consumer Reports admits there are shortcomings in every ranking system, including its own. One of the reasons for those shortcomings is the difficulty of obtaining solid information on the quality of care at each hospital.

For instance, the American College of Surgeons collects data on surgical outcomes, but will not release that information for fear hospitals will not voluntarily participate.

Medical data requires care and expertise to analyze, but providing it to consumers is the best way to improve hospital care. Patients and physicians should be able to compare the quality of hospitals to make fully informed decisions.

The CU report on surgical quality is another small step in the right direction.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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