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A U.S. government survey intended to help consumers purchase the best health care insurance ranks CHI Memorial Healthcare System as tops in the Chattanooga area for patient satisfaction.
On a list of 11 hospital quality questions, Memorial was ranked highest on every one, followed by Parkridge Medical Center, Hutcheson Medical Center and Erlanger Medical Center, in that order.
Topics included whether the bathrooms were clean, whether patient rooms were quiet at night, how well doctors and nurses communicated with patients, and whether patients felt their pain was controlled.
Overall, 85 percent of the CHI Memorial patients surveyed said they would recommend the hospital, better than the national average of 71 percent, and compared to 75 percent for Parkridge, 71 percent for Erlanger and 67 percent for Hutcheson.
Beyond the Chattanooga area, 66 percent of the patients taking the survey at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton said they would recommend the hospital, compared to 61 percent of patients at Tennova Healthcare in Cleveland.
"We have consistently been the best in the region," said CHI Memorial Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin L. Lewis. "That comes from dedicated effort. We believe the patient experience does tie to overall quality and value. So we place a lot of emphasis on that."
CHI Memorial bettered the national average in 10 of the 11 categories, failing only when patients were asked if their bathrooms were clean. Even there, Memorial was first locally, with 73 percent compared to 71 percent for Hutcheson, 69 percent for Parkridge, and 57 percent for Erlanger. Nationally, 74 percent of all patients said their bathrooms were clean.
Lewis said a key to Memorial's success has been its focus on the nursing staff.
"They tend to spend the most time with each patient and their family," he said, "so they have to be maximally engaged in this work."
Eighty-three percent of Memorial patients reported their nurses always communicated well with them, compared to the national average of 79 percent, 79 percent for Parkridge, 75 percent for Hutcheson, and 72 percent for Erlanger.
Erlanger Chief Medical Officer Dr. William L. Jackson Jr. noted the patient survey is just one of several sets of data that illustrate the quality of care at a hospital. In addition to the patient survey, the medicare.gov website includes information provided by the hospitals on how well they treated several basic medical problems, including whether patients were treated in a timely manner, whether they experienced complications, and whether they had to be re-admitted after being discharged from the hospital.
"It is important that consumers interested in these ratings also review the more detailed comparisons related to other services that are published on Hospital Compare, such as those under 'Timely and effective care,'" he said, "including Surgical Care, Pregnancy and Delivery Care, Effective Stroke Care, Timely Stroke Care, and Children's Asthma Care, among others."
He also said that as the area's largest public hospital and emergency facility, Erlanger's mix of patients is different from those at other hospitals in the area, which can affect the results of a survey.
"Though the Hospital Compare methodology applies an adjustment to account for differences in patient population," he said, "no methodology is perfect. The quality and complexity of care delivered at tertiary (advanced) care referral centers like Erlanger may not be fully accounted for by a single methodological approach."
Erlanger has taken several steps recently aimed at improving patient satisfaction. The hospital dropped Aramark Healthcare Support Services as their provider of housekeeping services last fall, and switched to a new company, Sodexo. At the same time, Dr. Joe Cofer was appointed to a new position as chief quality officer, where he has been working with the nursing staff on improving the quality of care.
While hospital officials were not happy with all of the questions on the survey or what data was displayed elsewhere on the medicare.gov site, they agreed the information has value for consumers.
"Patient safety and quality reporting programs, such as medicare.gov/hospitalcompare and The Leapfrog Group, a voluntary monitoring program, are tools for our patients to use in their discussions with health care providers," said Parkridge Director of Marketing Patricia Montgomery. The data also is useful "to enhance the quality of care we deliver," she said.
"We applaud the effort to get patients far more involved in their care," Lewis said.
The patient survey is part of a broader effort by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide the public with information on the quality of health care in their area.
Besides the four main area Chattanooga hospitals, the survey also includes all regional hospitals, including Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Ga.; Tennova Healthcare in Cleveland, Tenn.; Murray Medical Center in Chatsworth, Ga.; Rhea Medical Center in Dayton, Tenn.; Gordon Hospital in Calhoun, Ga.; Southern Tennessee Regional Health System in Winchester and Dekalb Regional Medical Center in Fort Payne, Ala.
The survey was taken by a random sample of at least 300 patients from each hospital, conducted within 48 hours to six weeks after they were discharged. Nearly 1,800 patients were surveyed at CHI Memorial, compared to more than 2,100 at Parkridge, but only 365 at Erlanger.